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 © 1978 Jerome Charyn
All rights reserved.
Who's the lad that barks at us and bites our cheeks? Tiger John, Tiger John. They sang that in the hall when he wasn't around, those Irishers from the Commissioner's office. They laughed at him and feared him too. You couldn't tell where his rage would fall. He was a crisp little man with gray hair that had lost its shine and turned a bitter yellow. It was like straw, that crop of dead yellow hair, but it didn't ruin his looks. He was sixty-one years old, and he had the energies and the eager face of a slightly dumb boy.
The Irishers couldn't remember if he'd been a captain in the Bronx, or a shoofly for the Chief Inspector. You didn't talk about his past. John had lived in deep winter a long, long time. He was attached to a little Irish club on First Avenue for decrepit and alcoholic cops until he came out of retirement with the Honorable Sammy Dunne. They were brothers of a sort, the Mayor and his Commissioner of Police.
The PC would closet himself for an hour and comb his dead yellow hair. At the old Headquarters John had a fireplace and a private balcony and his own elevator car. He could ride up and down as often as he liked. No one but his First Deputy could use that car. Now he didn't even have a First Deputy to comfort him. His First Dep was gone. Disappeared into the dust. The famous Isaac Sidel. This Isaac was always on some idiotic mission.
John had a sudden thirst for tea. He didn't have to yell for his chauffeur. Chinatown was across the street. He chose a small dirty cafe, the China Pot, where he wouldn't be recognized as the "Commish." Policemen didn't come here. It was a hole in the wall on Baxter Street.
You couldn't see Tiger John from the window. He sat at a table that was obscured by the counter, a crooked shelf, and the coffee urn, and he drank green tea. He had chicken buns and a cookie made of almond paste. John felt a sudden wind in the cafe. He looked up from his tea and buns. "Jesus, is that Jamey O'Toole?" he said to the man at the next table. The man was six feet seven, and his legs took up half the China Pot. It wasn't his impossible size that disturbed Tiger John. He could live with such prodigious things. But two Irishmen in the same cafe, that was a bad idea.
Jamey flipped a bankbook into the Commissioner's lap. "A present for you ... from the king." John cupped the little book in his hands and opened it under the table. The amount was six thousand dollars and twenty-three cents. The name was Nosey Flynn.
"Boyo," he said in a whisper, "how am I going to create the signature of Mr. Nosey Flynn?"
Jamey told him to use his left fist.
John had a pile of these bankbooks. He held them together with a rubber band. They arrived from O'Toole with different names in them. The names were always Irish. Simon Dedalus. Paddy Dignam. Gertrude MacDowell. Molly and/or Leopold Bloom ...
Who the hell was this king of Jamey's? An Irish thug with an Ivy League education. He removed himself to Dublin, because the freeze was on. The Special State Prosecutor, Dennis Mangen, had begun to ride herd over the City. It was Mangen who made life so miserable for Tiger John. Mangen ate up Police Commissioners.
"Jamey, don't come down here anymore."
"Because I don't want Mangen to catch your ass in Chinatown. He'll wonder why you've been traveling so far."
Jamey smiled. "What's new with the great god Dennis?"
"Shut your mouth," John said. Mangen had a squad of shooflies, and the shooflies went into every crack. They could have been hiding in the China Pot. "You belong uptown ... go on."
O'Toole got up from the table. He had to walk with a slanted step. There was no room for his shoulders in the cafe. He stopped near the door and called back to the Commissioner. "How's your First Dep?"
"I haven't seen a hair of him."
"I have," Jamey said. "He mucks around Forty-seventh Street in filthy clothes."
"That's Sheeny Isaac ... the brains of the Department. He's a bit of a psychopath, if you ask me. Mooning over a dead boy. You remember Manfred Coen?"
"Blue Eyes," Jamey said with a sneer.
"That's the baby. Isaac's daughter put a jinx on Coen."
She was a hungry girl, Marilyn the Wild. The daughter put out for anything in pants. She was the marrying kind. She'd have herself a husband, and shed him in a week. The poor girl went bats in the head. She fell for Isaac's "angel," Blue Eyes Coen. But Isaac wasn't giving Coen away. He tossed him to a family of Bronx pimps, and Blue Eyes got killed. Now Isaac walks around in rags, chasing pimps and lamenting Coen.
"Give him my love, Jamey, if you catch that stinky man on the street."
Both of them hated Sheeny Isaac. O'Toole had been thrown out of the Department, robbed of pension and shield by Isaac the Brave. He had to grovel for the king. He delivered bankbooks to John in a dirty cafe.
John dialed his chauffeur from the China Pot after O'Toole went out the door. "Christie, I'm on Baxter Street ..." He wouldn't have an Irish chauffeur carry him around. An Irish chauffeur would have sung to him from the driver's seat. John didn't want that much familiarity in his car. Christianson was a Swede, and the Swedes were quiet.
"Cheerio," he said to the Chinese countermen. "So long, boys." His black Mercury was outside the China Pot. He climbed over the curb, and he was gone from Baxter Street, Chinatown, and Police Headquarters. The cushions inside the Mercury were his chief comfort. No one could pester John, or attack him as the PC, when he sat on those high cushions.
A blinking light on the radiotelephone box destroyed his good cheer. It was the Mayor's light. John picked up the phone. He had to make sure it was Sammy on the line, and not one of those dunderheads from the Mayor's office.
"Your Honor ... is that you?"
"Himself," the Mayor said.
Sammy had turned remote. He was up for reelection, and he didn't need the Tiger hanging on his tails. Isaac was the Mayor's hero. Isaac was the grand boy. The newspapers reviled Tiger John. They called him the "Know-Nothing Commish." Isaac could dance in his own shit, and the Police reporters would sniff for gold. They loved whatever sloppy music the First Dep made. It didn't matter to them that Sheeny Isaac had removed himself and gone into the Manhattan wilderness. He was their favorite child.
"I'll be having my bath tonight ... tell the lads to give it a good scrub. How are you, Johnny?"
"In the pink."
He'd become a buffoon for Mayor Sam, a Commissioner who could be trundled in and out of the closet, depending upon the political climate. These were John's closet days. You never found him at the little parties Sam liked to give. John was keeper of the bath. His club had installed a sauna room for Mayor Sam, so "Hizzoner" would have somewhere to hide. It was John's function to regulate the sauna's heated rocks by spilling cups of water over them. Such were the duties of a Police Commissioner.
The Mayor's light went off. John put the receiver back on the cradle and muttered to himself. Now that he's in trouble he wants his bath.
"Take me to the Dingle," John barked.
Tiger John Rathgar was a Dingle Bay boy. The Dingle was his club. It began as a kind of temperance league for drunken Irish cops. The Sons of Dingle had the right cure. They would pound that terrible love of "the whiskey" out of any man. John had an added moral obligation. He would visit with the wives, and seduce them if he could. The Dingles had more than temperance on their minds. They were bully boys in the County of Manhattan. They collected bills for local merchants and delivered votes for Democrats who could afford the price. But they'd grown a little obsolete. They couldn't whack men and women outside a polling booth, even with Tiger John as "Commish."
He arrived at a battered storefront on First Avenue: the Dingle Bay. It made no pretense of being a gentleman's club. It was for the hairy Irish. Crossbones were painted on the window, crossbones and a harp. Its sills were crumbling, and its metal awning was eaten with rust. Yet no other society of Hibernian cops could boast a sauna bath.
John sent the Mercury home to Chinatown and made three long knocks on the club's iron door. It was a signal to his mates.
He had to knock again. "It's me ... John."
The door opened enough to let him through. Jesus, it was dark in there. Those lads didn't believe in sunlight. They had a fetish about covering their freckled pates. Summer and winter, indoors and out, they would wear eight-piece caps of pure Donegal wool. The caps left a deep mark on their foreheads. They were proud of the "Donegal" mark. Others wore black derbies. They were lads from the Retired Sergeants Association who would visit the Dingle from time to time.
John shucked off his suit jacket. He didn't have to play Commissioner at the Dingle. He could go about in his shirtsleeves and not feel compromised.
"Kiddos, the Mayor's coming tonight."
The old men chuckled to themselves. They built a sauna for Mayor Sammy Dunne, but they weren't so fond of Sam.
"Christ, we haven't cleared out the piss from the last time he was here ... we won't disappoint His Grace. We'll mop up the putrid thing ... how goes it at the Headquarters, John?"
"The usual shit," he said. "I can't complain."
His Chief Inspector was retiring in another few months. McNeill had a castle in the Old Country. He'd live in it like a duke and fish for salmon in his waters. What would happen to John? He was already shy a First Dep. He'd have to whistle for Isaac.
The old men were in a singing mood. They had their bottles of root beer and Tiger John. It was a temperance society, and they wouldn't keep liquor in the house. They would run next door to sneak Irish whiskey into the root beer.
We're the Sons of Dingle Bay
The wild geese who left our home
Who left our home
Who left our home
For Ameriky ...
It's true, true, Johnny said. Wild geese. Gone from home. The Dingles were lucky. They didn't have to preside over Police Headquarters. They could visit the Mother Country, like Coote McNeill and old Tim Snell, and those other lads from the Retired Sergeants Association. Live in Wexford or Dublin half the year. Bring back neckerchiefs, derbies, and a fresh box of Donegal hats.
We're the Sons of Dingle Bay ...
The song rid him of Sheeny Isaac. John didn't have to think of Isaac, Chief Inspector McNeill, or the Mayor's bath. He brushed his tongue over a bottle of root beer and began to sing:
Who left our home
Who left our home
For Americky ...
There was once an old man who had a worm in his gut. The worm liked to wiggle. The old man would clutch at himself, as if to tear out the insides of his body. He lived at a disgusting hotel on West Forty-seventh Street. The hotel didn't even have a name. It was just off Whores' Row. The pimps stayed clear of him. They kept suites at this hotel for all the "brides" they owned, or managed. The "brides" were black girls under nineteen. At least one of them was pregnant. They enjoyed the old man. He wouldn't snarl at them, or look under their summer shirts. A whore's sweaty nipples couldn't surprise him.
So they talked to the old bum, shared orange drinks, confided in him. These "brides" had their own corners. No one could intrude on their rights. If it rained, they worked out of little storefront parlors. It was a rotten year. Five dollars could get you half the world. There was nothing, nothing they wouldn't do for a man. The "brides" were on the street twenty hours a day. The old man could see the rawness in their necks, the hysteria when they would grab at a john and say, "Honey, goin' out?" The seduction was very thin. The black girls were faithful to their pimps. Most of the white whores, who worked the same streets, hated any man who touched them. They were dykes and religious freaks. They'd grown suspicious of the old bum. They wouldn't kiss their girlfriends in front of him. They tried to get their "players" to run him off the street.
The old man had an odd immunity. It had something to do with the worm. He'd been at war with a retarded family of South American pickpockets and thieves. This family had given him the worm. The old man killed one of them, maimed another, and threw the rest of them into some foreign hell. They were groveling in Barcelona, selling parrots with split beaks. And this old man had their worm in his belly, a hookworm that was eating him inch by inch.
Certain men would step out of shiny Buicks and whisper to the old bum. They were much too regal to be members of any vice squad, and they didn't wear the wide trousers of homicide boys. The pimps would wonder to themselves: who is this geek? Their friends at the nearest precinct grew mum when you mentioned the old man with the worm.
He developed a lousy odor. He didn't think much about changing his pants. He wouldn't shave more than once a week. He fed his worm at a Greek dive on Eighth Avenue and Forty-fifth. He would eat salads and whole wheat bread. Then he'd give in to his appetite and crawl to Ninth Avenue for a cappuccino. It was a weakness he had. Strong coffee and steamed milk.
The coffee was bad for his worm. Its thousand little hooks grabbed at the old man's intestines, and he would stumble through the street, saying, "Fuck, God, shit," or whatever madness came into his head. He would avoid the coffee for five or six days. Then he couldn't help himself.
It was after one of these cappuccino fits, when the worm was twisting him half to death, that he saw her on Forty-third Street. It wasn't a good corner for a prostitute. There was always a heavy load of cops that guarded the trucking lanes around the New York Times building. The Mayor was scared of the New York Times. He had his Police Commissioner, Tiger John, flood Forty-third Street with cops in and out of uniform. So who had stationed this girlie over here? Some forlorn "player," a beginner's pimp who hadn't learned the truths of Times Square? She was no mulatto queen. The old bum watched her in profile. A white whore who didn't have that hard glint of a manhater. She was beautiful. She should have been a rich man's escort, not a bimbo in the street.
The old bum wasn't filled with lecheries. He wouldn't have brought this beauty to his hotel. He had a daughter with the same skinny ankles. The daughter was a sucker for men. She couldn't keep from getting married and divorced. She was on her seventh husband, and she was only twenty-nine. He decided to play the father to this beauty, chase her from Forty-third Street before the Chief Inspector's men picked her up. But he was trembling at the fineness of her nose. Why didn't some Cadillac whisk her off to White Plains? She was a girl to marry, not whore with. Then the old man saw the other side of her face.
It was scarred, wickedly scarred. She had the imprint of what seemed to be a knuckle, as if she'd been gouged with a metal fist. He took a closer look. The letter "D" had been scratched into her face. Christ. A scarlet letter on Forty-third Street.
"Miss, you can't stay here. The cops are fond of this corner. You'd better shove up to Forty-fifth."
"I can't." She smiled, and that gruesome letter wriggled on her cheek. "I don't have a union card. The other girls would bite my ass."
"Who's looking after you?"
"Martin McBride." The smile ended, and the "D" corrected itself.
"Well, this Martin is an idiot. Is he the one who put you in the street?"
The scarred beauty turned agitated.
"Mister, take me somewhere, or go away. Martin doesn't like me talking to strangers."
She didn't have a bimbo's voice, and it confused the old bum. He had no plans to undress her. "What's your name?"
"Isn't Annie enough for you?" she said. "It's Annie Powell."
He smuggled her into a French restaurant on Forty-eighth Street, Au Tunnel. The headwaiter was frightened to throw him out. The old bum had twenties in his pocket and a Diners Club card.
Annie Powell laughed. "God, you're crazy."
"Who's Martin McBride?"
"Somebody's uncle," she said. "That's all."
The old man pointed to the scar. "Did he do that?"
They drank a muscatel, had scallops, green beans, trout, and a chocolate mousse.
"Mister, how are you going to make me earn this meal? I might not be kinky enough for you." He hadn't told her his name.
The bum gave her forty dollars. "Do me a favor, Annie Powell. Stay off the street for the rest of the night."
Excerpted from Secret Isaac by Jerome Charyn. Copyright © 1978 Jerome Charyn. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com.
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