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Authors: Sparkle Hayter

The Chelsea Girl Murders

BOOK: The Chelsea Girl Murders
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What's a Girl Gotta Do?

“Put down the paper right now and go out to buy
What's a Girl Gotta Do
.… This is a mystery where you wait on the edge of your seat not for the next murder, but for the next thing that Robin is going to say.… It's the kind of book you'll laugh at out loud, or take to work to read around the coffee machine.” —
The Washington Post Book World

“The most uproariously funny murder mystery ever written.” —Katherine Neville, author of
The Eight

Nice Girls Finish Last

“Witty, irreverent, sometimes bawdy … A rollicking blend of deftly aimed satire and neatly plotted murder mystery.” —
The Philadelphia Inquirer

“A hilarious, keenly written romp across the gender divide, downtown Manhattan's alternative scenes, and the frenetic world of TV news.” —
Entertainment Weekly

Revenge of the Cootie Girls

“Sexy, irreverent and wacky. Robin Hudson should be Stephanie Plum's goilfriend.” —Janet Evanovich, #1
New York Times
–bestselling author of
Top Secret Twenty-One

The Last Manly Man

“Offbeat and outrageously funny.”
—The San Diego Union-Tribune

“Fast-paced plotting, witty dialogue, fleshed out characters and enough red herrings to distract from the real villains and maintain suspense.”

The Chelsea Girl Murders

“Quirky characters, tough guy talk, romantic longing and unexpected twists … Hayter [is] writing at the top of her game.”
—The Milwaukee Journal

“What a phenomenally entertaining writer Hayter is.”
—The Times

The Chelsea Girl Murders

A Robin Hudson Mystery

Sparkle Hayter

For my agent, Russ Galen

and the Chelsea Hotel

for keeping the wolves from the door

You meet people all over the world on this international Bohemian circuit, and they'll say, “See you at the Chelsea.”

—German writer Jakov Lind

She couldn't pay her rent so she moved somewhere more expensive. The Chelsea. Very artistic.

—Candy Darling in
I Shot Andy Warhol

It was said to be crazy but likable.

—Florence Turner of the hotel in
At the Chelsea

chapter one

Thanks to Mrs. Dulcinia Ramirez and her pathological love of Jesus, and thanks also to the Holy Toledo Religious Novelty Company of Toledo, Ohio, and Shanghai, China, my neighbors and I found ourselves out on the street in our pajamas one spring night, watching our building burn. Of course, we didn't yet know what was to blame. It took several weeks for the fire department to trace the blaze to Mrs. Ramirez's electric Ascension of Jesus display, or what was left of it after the immolation.

My name is Robin Hudson and at the time of the fire I was the programming head for the Worldwide Women's Network, a subsidiary of Jackson Broadcasting. I was forty going on forty-one, divorced and childless. Since college I had lived in Manhattan's East Village in a prewar walk-up on East Tenth Street between avenues B and C, a clean, quiet block populated largely by Hispanic working people and their families. Through many eras and transformations, I stuck it out on the Lower East Side, from its days as an anarchist slum to the current haute-bohemian paradise enjoyed by yuppies and affluent twenty-somethings from elsewhere who had seen a road show of
and been inspired to move here, dye their hair pink and blue, and taste
la vie boheme.
It was this last incarnation that got me thinking it might be time to leave the East Village and look for an apartment in a more authentic, grown-up New York neighborhood, one that was less at risk of being Disneyfied.

But it was just idle thinking, until Jesus short-circuited.

The fire alarm went off in the hallway with an unholy shriek after midnight, as I was falling asleep and into a gauzy, half dream, about Pierre, this French genius with whom I'd recently had a mad fling. So appealing was this dream, I didn't react right away to the alarm. Only when I smelled the smoke did I jump out of bed, open the window, and kick away the poison ivy planters so my cat, Louise Bryant, could escape. Before I followed her, I wildly grabbed stuff—my purse, my laptop, shopping bags full of mementoes and personal papers, and an old Enfield rifle, a present from a man I'd loved and lost. I threw a black coat over my antique peach nightgown and shoved my feet into slippers. Black smoke was starting to fill my apartment when I went clanging down the fire escape.

After me on the fire escape came my neighbors, old Mr. O'Brien and his latest “housekeeper,” a widow he'd met through a mailorder bride magazine he subscribed to. The way they went down together, wrapped up in one big yellow blanket, made me think they weren't wearing much underneath.

Most of my neighbors were already out of the building, standing on the street in their pajamas. It's an odd thing to see your neighbors in their nightclothes. My neighbor Sally was standing in a flowing, iridescent white nightgown, a bag under one arm and her powder blue, circa 1962 Samsonite suitcase under the other, underwear and paper sticking out of it. Phil, our saintly super, a tweed coat over his striped pajamas, was holding his scrapbook of clippings and doing a head count with Helen Fitkis, unrepentant Communist and widow of a longshoreman. She wore a quilted orange-and-yellow housecoat over gray slippers, and was holding my cat. Mr. Burpus, a subway motorman and enthusiastic philatelist, wore green pajama bottoms and a brown houndstooth blazer, no shirt. He was clutching a stamp album. Three Japanese girls, NYU film students who were subletting the apartment above me, wore identical black leather jackets over flannel pajamas, in different pastel colors. Mr. O'Brien's bare, pale legs poked out from beneath the yellow blanket, next to the pale legs of the “housekeeper.” He was barefoot, while she wore one red slipper.

At this point, only old Mrs. Ramirez was missing. Mrs. Ramirez's apartment, located conveniently below mine, was full of old wooden furniture, religious candles, scrapbooks, photographs, and other highly flammable stuff. As the biggest flames were coming from her window, we all assumed the worst: When that pile of tinder ignited, she went up like Joan of Arc.

“She was very dried out. She would have burned fast,” said Mr. O'Brien, displaying the sensitivity of a man who orders his concubines from the backs of magazines and calls them “housekeepers.”

“That's a great comfort,” I said.

“It would have been a quick death,” agreed his “housekeeper.” “And now she's with Jesus.”

“Who's with Jesus?” demanded a voice in the dark. “What's going on?”

Mrs. Ramirez stood there, in a trim black coat and matching hat, with her Chihuahua, Señor, just back from one of her one-woman Neighborhood Watch rounds.

“Who's with Jesus?” she demanded again. Maybe it was my imagination, but I thought I detected a note of jealousy.

“We thought you were, luv,” Phil said. “Thank God you're okay. The building doesn't look very good though.”

“A fire,” Mrs. R. correctly identified. Mrs. Ramirez of course had a theory to share about the fire, that our neighbor Sally, “the witch,” had caused the fire by burning herbs and had been inviting divine retribution for practicing “the black arts.”

Sally began to weep, and protested: “I wasn't burning anything. I was asleep.”

“Then who was it?” Mrs. R. asked, looking around for suspects.

Flashing lights from emergency vehicles strobed the street. It had rained earlier, leaving a wet, reflective sheen, making the darkness seem somehow brighter. Blurry ribbons of reflected light—red, white, yellow—bled into each other on the wet asphalt. Above us, burning pieces of paper and cloth came down in a rain of softly falling black ash, as though it were snowing in hell. More engines arrived. There was a lot of noise—the roar and crackle of the fire, firemen hollering to each other, the sound of the water hoses, and spectators chattering in various languages, but it quickly turned to white noise. I was stunned. How stunned? I only subconsciously noticed how incredibly manly and attractive the firefighters were. By now, the flames were coming out of my window and nearly two decades of my existence was going up in putrid black smoke.

“You're not going to be able to go back in there tonight,” one of the fire guys said. “I don't know if or when you'll be going back. You'd better find other accommodation.”

“Let's go have a drink,” Phil the super suggested, taking control. In a motley procession of pajama-clad people and pets, we trooped down Avenue B to the Lucky 7 bar. After we took a couple of tables, we ordered a round of beverages. Even Mrs. Ramirez indulged, ordering a small sherry. The three of us with cell phones began making calls.

First we called the “management company” that ran our building, which is really just one miserly Greek guy, his indolent brother, and in the office a woman named Florence who couldn't find her ass with both her hands, and when they didn't respond to our page, we set about tracking down places for everyone to stay. Sally was going to stay with her friend Delia. Helen and Phil were going to stay with her sister and brother-in-law in Jersey, which did not seem to thrill Phil much. Mrs. Ramirez had no living relatives, and no friends, really, but she was a churchgoing Catholic and Phil was able to find an order of patient, long-suffering nuns on Long Island who could and would take her and Señor, no doubt earning themselves many indulgences in the kingdom of heaven.

As for me, my friend Tamayo Scheinman, a comedienne, keeps a place at the Chelsea Hotel. At the moment, she was traveling around the world with Buzzer, her new boyfriend. She could be anywhere from Outer Mongolia to Damascus, and was only reachable by native runner, high-psi telepathy, or irregular E-mail from an Internet cafe. But I had keys to the place in my purse and an open invitation to use the apartment whenever she was away—you know, for trysts and such, if my apartment was too messy or neutral ground was required. Until now, I'd had no need for it.

“Another round?” suggested Phil.

“Not for me. I have to work tomorrow,” I said.

“I'll call you,” he said to me, and we all said our good-byes.

Still in my nightclothes, I got a cab and rode uptown to Twenty-third Street between Seventh and Eighth avenues, and to the Chelsea Hotel. You may have heard of it. Maybe you've even stayed there, or walked past it on West Twenty-third Street. You can't miss it, a redbrick Victorian Gothic building, almost castle-like, looming over the staid, utilitarian buildings of Twenty-third. The front is lined with lacy, black wrought-iron balconies, the roof with turrets and pyramids. It looks like the kind of place the Addams family would check into when in New York. It is twelve stories high and was, when it was built in the 1880s, the tallest building in New York. Though it started out as cooperative apartments, it soon became a residential hotel for show people, artists, Negroes, homosexuals, and others who couldn't find lodging in more “respectable” hostelries. Over the years it has housed famous, infamous, and obscure artists, as well as nonartists and tourists drawn to its history or bohemian atmosphere.

Tamayo had put my name on her rental card at the Chelsea, giving me blanket permission to use her apartment. A bellman named Jerome helped me carry my few things up to Tamayo's floor. He smiled slightly when he saw me, in my bedclothes, carrying my cat and my haphazard belongings.

“Our apartment building burned down,” I said, to explain, and he shrugged almost imperceptibly, completely unnonplussed. Probably not the first time someone in pajamas had moved into the Chelsea 'round midnight with nothing but a clutch of overflowing shopping bags, a rifle, and a cat.

BOOK: The Chelsea Girl Murders
5.96Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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