The Diabolical Voodoo Experiments of Harry Smith, Folk Music Anthologist
Historical Fiction by Ed Hamilton
Harry Smith lived in a tiny, junk-filled room in the Chelsea Hotel with no kitchen and a bathroom down the hall. This was where, in inadvertent homage to the Collyer brothers, he stored his vast collections. Filling most of the floor space, and rising up toward the high ceiling, were stacks of brown cardboard boxes and jumbled towers of books, magazines, and records — some of which had collapsed into heaps that spread out across the floor. A single bed piled high with blankets and clothes, a pair of straight-backed chairs, and a table stacked with papers, dirty dishes, cameras, tape recorders, and film-editing equipment, competed for the remaining space. There was a small, rust-stained sink and an ancient, groaning refrigerator in one corner of the room.
Not to overlook the Satanic altar. For as Harry was an artist, and as art is a kind of alchemy, it should come as no surprise to learn that Harry, the Renaissance man of the art-drenched Chelsea, was also a master of the occult. The makeshift altar, fashioned from a small rickety desk, was festooned with foul relics and grisly power objects, fetishes and totems made from hair and bone and beads and cloth, from scales and fur and tattooed human skin. And it was over this very altar, on a moonless night in 1965, that Harry, together with Leticia — his most trusted assistant — were bent in rapt absorption. Upon the altar, ringed by votive candles, lay a mangy tomcat, his gray fur flecked with pet cemetery dirt, his muzzle stained by dried blood and gore that had oozed from his mouth and coagulated beneath his head. As the pale, black-haired, hollow-cheeked Leticia dripped blood from a decapitated chicken’s neck onto the corpse, Harry intoned the time-honored mystical words: “Rise, Fluffy, rise!”
The Chelsea Hotel was a ready vessel into which was decanted the zeitgeist of the sixties, the result of which was a non-stop, 24-hour orgy of art, music, literature, dance, and free love, fueled by powerful psychotropic drugs. Often described as “Victorian Gothic,” the crumbling, gabled, red brick pile on Manhattan’s 23rd Street had been a haven to the arts since 1884, housing such luminaries as Mark Twain, Sarah Bernhardt, Thomas Wolfe, and Dylan Thomas. Basing its construction on the principles of French utopian philosopher Charles Fourier, the architect Philip Hubert designed the hotel as a socialist experiment in cooperative living. And now, some eighty-odd (and I mean, really odd) years later, it were as if the experiment had gone awry and the overgrown Petri dish had spawned a strange and beautiful monster.
Of all the hotel’s inspired, eccentric, and downright mad denizens, no one individual more fully typified the wide-open spirit of the Chelsea experience than the infamous Harry Smith. Painter, filmmaker, folklorist, collector of pop-culture ephemera, and counterculture jack of all trades, it was Smith who compiled and edited the Anthology of American Folk Music, so influential to the generation of folk singers who congregated in the bars and coffee shops of Greenwich Village. Short and slight, bearded and gnome-like, Smith was a sawed-off plenipotentiary of the demimonde, gathering around him through the force of his personality a misfit crew of disciples and sycophants to aid him in his seminal work. Progress on his various projects, as one might expect, was sporadic at best.
“Rise, Fluffy, rise!” Harry repeated. “Rise, Fluffy, rise!!!” Harry and Leticia chanted in unison.
“Drizzle some of that blood in his mouth,” Harry suggested.
“Good idea,” Leticia replied. “Hold his mouth open.”
And as Harry used his sacrificial knife to pry open the cat’s stiffened jaws, Leticia redirected the flow of blood, pinching the chicken’s neck to titrate the amount, onto the appropriate area.
Still nothing. The blood sloshed off the cat’s face to no effect.
A woman in her early thirties, Leticia Skankmeyer had been working with Harry for a little over a year. Her father, having set her up in the Chelsea because it was less expensive than the mental hospital, had provided her with a generous allowance, which she used to keep Harry in cigarettes, liquor, and film stock. Gaunt, skeletal, with heroin tracks and suicide scars on her bony arms, Leticia had filled in her pale, hollow cheeks with white pancake make-up, completing her ghoulish look with black lipstick and eyeliner. She wore black leather pants, stretched tight to her frame, and, in a nod to her feminine side, a frilly purple blouse. Despite her otherworldly appearance, Leticia was primarily interested in film. She and Harry had taken a break from the grueling editing work on Harry’s great magnum opus, Mahagonny, to embark upon this experimental foray into the realm of Voodoo. Leticia was plainly in love with Harry.
“I don’t think it’s working,” she said.
“Nobody asked you,” Harry replied. Raising his arms heavenward, he danced about the room, chanting vigorously, evoking the spirits of the goddess Erzulie and the powerful snake god Damballah Wedo — and knocking over several stacks of books and records in the process.
Harry’s appearance was no less shocking: He had splotchy skin and bad teeth, and the dark circles under his eyes were accentuated by his Coke-bottle glasses. His long, unkempt hair and beard were flecked with gray, and his bony hands with their long, dirty fingernails were stained yellow from nicotine. Stooped and with a slight hunchback, Harry wore ratty, thrift-store clothes — a white shirt yellowed with sweat and the pants from an old gray suit. Though he usually topped this outfit with a threadbare black trench coat, for the ceremony he had donned a beige bathrobe adorned with alchemical symbols. He did not reciprocate Leticia’s affection.
Giving up on the dance, a winded Harry poked the cat with his finger: “Snap out of it, Fluffy. What’s wrong with you?”
“It’s getting smoky in here from all these candles,” Leticia said. “Can I open the window?”
Harry, who was becoming increasingly frustrated, did not acknowledge her. Instead, he redoubled his efforts: “Arise, foul beast! Up! Up! Rise, Fluffy, rise!” He paused to observe the effects of his words, then said, “Shit, you goddamned cat, get up!”
“I don’t think he’s gonna rise, Harry.”
Harry grabbed the cat and tried to stand him upright. The dead animal tottered briefly, then fell back over.
“He’s stiff as a board,” Leticia observed.
“Pull his tail,” Harry commanded. “Tickle his foot.”
Leticia did as she was told.
“Give him mouth to mouth.”
“Stick him with a fork.”
Leticia found one in the sink and jabbed the cat fiercely several times, making a mental note to bring her own silverware the next time she dined at Harry’s place.
“I’ve seen the Mambo High Priestess do this a dozen times,” Harry said. “And with people, too! Grab that candle and singe Fluffy’s fur! That’ll teach that lazy-ass cat.”
Leticia grabbed a nearby candle from a pile of boxes and swung it toward the altar, inadvertently brushing into Harry’s bathrobe. The highly flammable fabric burst instantly into flames.
“Shit! Goddamn! Get some water!” Harry yelled, as he struggled to get out of the burning garment.
“Oh, my God!” Leticia panicked, grabbing the nearest thing — which happened to be Harry’s urine pitcher.
“No, not that!”
But she had already sloshed him with the foul mess — which also contained the contents of an ashtray. At least it put out the fire.
Sputtering and shaking piss and cigarette butts from his face and hair, Harry said, “What the hell is your problem?”
“I told you no good could come of this,” Leticia said, still brandishing the pitcher. “You have to use the bathroom like everyone else.”
“But it’s a mile down the hall!” Harry whined.
At that moment, the door burst open, and a man bounded into the room, almost causing the two sinister celebrants to jump out of their skin. It was Chuck McGillicuddy. Obese, baby-faced, with a wisp of a beard, Chuck was a young wannabe Hell’s Angel who had been drummed out of the novitiate for unknown offenses. He now lived at the Chelsea and worked as Harry’s bodyguard, cameraman, and factotum.
“Harry! Harry!” he cried out excitedly.
“You idiot! Don’t barge in like that!” Harry screamed. “Now, look what you’ve done! You’ve spoiled the whole ceremony. Thanks to you, Fluffy will never chase mice again. I hope you’re satisfied with yourself.”
“Sorry,” Chuck said, eyes downcast.
“Stand over there out of the way until we’re done.” Harry knocked the papers off a chair and sat down. “I don’t understand it,” he lamented. “I did it just exactly like Mambo Ethyl taught me.”
“Maybe we need a fresher cat,” Leticia suggested. “This one’s been dead for a week.”
“What’s the point, then?! Then I’m just like a doctor or something lame like that!”
“No, you’re not, Harry! You’re a genius. Everybody knows that.”
“If I can’t even raise a cat, how am I ever supposed to raise a human?” Harry said, burying his head in his hands in despair.
After a time, an impatient Chuck asked, “Are you done?”
“No,” Harry said. “Wait a minute.” Then, after a pause, he added, “All right, what is it?”
“There’s a huge party up on the sixth floor! You gotta see it. It’s great.”
“Don’t go up to that stupid witch’s party!” Leticia snapped.
“What? What are you talking about? What witch? How come nobody ever told me about her?” Harry was irritated to hear that he had competition. “Well, there you have it, right there. My magical aura has been disrupted by the presence of a contrarian force. No wonder we can’t raise this damn cat.” He rose from his chair with renewed purpose. “Well, we’ll see about this.”
“Forget about that dirty witch,” Leticia said, desperately jealous. “Let’s try with a fresher cat. I know where there’s one on the ninth floor, and maybe it’s in the hall right now.”
“A freshly dead one?”
“No, it’s alive. At least, the last time I checked,” Leticia admitted. “But that shouldn’t be a problem. It’s a small one, and I think it’s been declawed.”
But Harry was fixated on the more vexing question of the new witch in the building. “I seriously doubt she’s a real witch,” he said, “or else I would have sensed her presence.”
“Oh, she’s a witch, all right,” Chuck assured him. “And by the looks of her, a powerful and charismatic one.”
“A horrible, wicked, ugly, old witch,” Leticia said. “Let’s not go up there, Harry.”
“I don’t know about the ugly part,” Chuck said.
But Harry had already made up his mind. He pulled off the urine-soaked bathrobe, wadded it up, and tossed it in the corner behind a pile of rubbish. He donned his grubby trench coat, then grabbed Fluffy by the legs and tossed him to Leticia. “All right, get this down to your freezer. We’ll raise Fluffy later.”
“Why do I have to keep him in my freezer?” Leticia protested.
“Because I have ice cream in mine, okay?”
This cat’s no good anyway, Leticia thought, but she knew from experience that further argument was useless. When Harry wasn’t looking, she slung the stiffened feline out the window onto the roof of the building next door.
Revelers were spilling out into the marble-tiled hall on the sixth floor: beatniks in their existential black, folkies in their flannel shirts and pageboy hats, mods in miniskirts and paisley jackets, hippies with their long hair and beads. Even a couple of weirdos in business suits. All seemed to be in uncommonly high spirits, getting along famously despite their differences.
“What’s wrong with these idiots?” Harry asked, scowling crossly. If there was one thing he couldn’t stand, it was people having fun. Especially in his building.
A drunken, wild-haired Gregory Corso stumbled up to Harry and his friends. “Hey, man, where’s your invitation?” he asked Harry jokingly.
Harry, who had never liked Corso, discreetly kneed him in the groin. “That’ll put a damper on his evening,” Harry said, as the beat poet collapsed to the floor in agony.
In more ways than one, the Australian artist Vali Myers’ Chelsea Hotel apartment was as different from Harry’s dingy crash pad as day is from night. Spacious, bright, and airy, with several large windows facing 23rd Street, it was actually a suite consisting of two rooms and a kitchen. Vali had been in residence for a scant three months, and already she had taken major steps to make the place her own and to fill it with her carefree spirit. She had painted the walls canary yellow with a bright red trim, and the ceiling green with a red and yellow sunburst radiating out from the center. In addition, she had peopled the walls with brightly colored mythological beings: friendly sphinxes and griffins in various sizes and various stages of completion, the apartment being, by design, a work in progress. Both magical and festive in the extreme, the whole space exuded an aura of peace, goodwill, and flower power.
It was enough to make Harry vomit.
And Vali, to say the least, gave a hell of a party. The Velvet Underground were performing, and all the beautiful people were dancing. A light show was filtering onto the band through a haze of pot smoke and incense. Warhol and his crew were filming. The air was hot and sweaty with the stench of drug-stoked desire, as couples came together and kissed and groped, fell amorously entwined upon one of the chairs or couches, or skipped off hand in hand for more private assignations. It was a festival of love, a celebration of life, a cross between a Be-In and a Happening, with a pinch of Exploding Plastic Inevitable and a dash of Plato’s Retreat thrown in for good measure.
I’ve cursed this building repeatedly over the years, Harry thought disgustedly, as he entered the apartment. What the hell gives? Apparently, he had been mistaken in believing that his malignant influence reigned supreme over the cavernous, dimly lit halls of the Chelsea Hotel.
The party was a star-studded affair: Warhol was surrounded by his entire entourage of Superstars and resident Chelsea Girls, such as Candy Darling and Holly Woodlawn. Allen Ginsberg was there, as was William Burroughs, who lived at the hotel. Corso — who was momentarily out of commission — lived there, as well. Bob Dylan, who usually holed up in Room 211, was busy trying to impress a silver-mini-skirted Edie Sedgwick. Arthur Miller, who lived down the hall, stuck his head in briefly to see what all the commotion was and ended up having a couple of drinks. His friend, the Irish writer, Brendan Behan — run out of every hotel in New York except this one — had already downed more than a couple and was passed out dead-drunk on the couch. Cristo was trying to wrap one of the chairs. And everyone, even the generally crabby Valerie Solanas, seemed to be having an extraordinarily good time.
Utterly nauseating, Harry thought, shaking his head in dismay.
He purposely knocked a drink out of Ginsberg’s hand — and Ginsberg apologized to him! It was maddening. Some insidious magical brainwashing spell had obviously been cast, Harry concluded, to make these people so joyful. And although the exact nature of the spell was for the moment hidden from him, he’d be damned if he fell under its influence. He tripped up a couple of the dancers, and they went down in a heap.
Harry threw elbows right and left with malignant intent, as he made his way through the crowd looking for the liquor. “How the hell did this supposed witch get such a great apartment, when I’m living in a rundown hellhole?!” Harry asked of no one in particular.
“Maybe she pays for it,” Leticia, who was following in his wake, suggested.
“What are you, nuts? Why am I surrounded by imbeciles?” For the time and place — it was, after all, the Chelsea Hotel in the sixties — the idea seemed rather far-fetched. “I’m marching right down to the front desk Monday morning and demanding the best suite in the house!” The author of Naked Lunch came up and greeted Harry warmly, and Harry, without any other acknowledgment, grabbed the drink from Burroughs’ hand and downed it at a gulp, then dashed the glass to the floor. Glancing right and left, Harry continued, “And speaking of imbeciles, where the hell’s Chuck?” As he said this, he caught sight of Chuck over in the very midst of Warhol’s entourage, making out with the drag queen, Candy Darling. This incensed Harry. “Traitor! Well, let him work for that two-bit hack! See if I care!”
While it’s clear that Harry considered the silver-haired pop artist to be the competition, as the vehemence of his outburst suggests, there was a much deeper reason for Harry’s irritation. For although Harry’s malaise was best characterized as a terrible and abiding regret that he could never share in the general merriment of his fellows, this feeling was rooted in sexual frustration, as the source of Harry’s considerable personal power, of his artistic genius and his charisma — as well as his mastery of the physical and spiritual world through sorcery — lay in his sexual abstinence. Now into his forties, Harry remained a virgin. This was a choice on his part, the result of a conscious decision he had made as an adolescent and had maintained ever since through the exercise of his formidable will. Thus, doomed to remain forever on the sidelines in the drama of life and love, Harry wanted the world to pay for doing this to him — even if he had done it to himself! He wanted all mankind to be as miserable as he was, and so he sought to cast a dark, Satanic pall over the lives of his fellows, to overshadow and consume them all in his mighty wrath.
Leticia sensed the reason for Harry’s frustration, and she felt that one day he would have enough of this vain pursuit and fall into her waiting arms. In the meantime, a bit of a sorcerer herself, she knew just which buttons to push to make things interesting. “Well, at least the music’s good,” she said.
Yes, she’s right; the music’s very good, Harry mused, feeling his muscles relax, as the tension in his face and body dropped away. A connoisseur and an expert, Harry turned his attention to the music, searching in the melody and rhythm for clues he could use to combat Vali’s spell. The Velvet Underground were actually kind of depressive, Harry reflected, and that’s why he liked them; they were always so aloof and cool. But now, Harry noticed that on this particular night, even Lou and Nico and the rest seemed to have been swept up in the hippie-dippy love-and-peace vibe and were smiling and acting goofy — and starting to sound (quelle horreur!) like the Grateful Dead! And this realization frightened Harry. He felt his foot tapping in time to the compromised beat, and thought, Oh, my God, it’s infecting me, too! Worming its way into my brain! And who knows what insidious damage it has already done to my subconscious mind! The spell was much stronger than Harry had previously suspected. He had to do something quickly to reassert control.
(Ha! Leticia thought, when she saw Harry’s confused reaction. With any luck, he’ll bust up this party before he even lays eyes on that horrible witch!)
Harry made his way through the crowd to the wall and located the power cables. He gathered them up and jerked, but they seemed to be caught on something, so he followed them to where they snaked behind a couch and popped back out on the other side, only to disappear beneath the snack table. He spied a bread knife on the table and snatched it up, intending to saw through the cables and put an end to this rock ’n’ roll fiasco once and for all. But then, bending to attack the cables, he thought, Wait a minute, won’t I just electrocute myself? And while that would have likely put an end to the party, Harry was not quite ready to become a martyr to the cause of saving the youth of America from the Demon Rock. Instead, the little sorcerer figured he’d better pull the plugs out of the wall first, and then he could hack through them in relative leisure. He tugged. Damn, still stuck on something! Flipping up the plastic tablecloth, he saw what the obstruction was: two naked hippies were locked in the act of coitus — or, in the parlance of the day, balling — right on top of the cords.
“This floor’s taken, dude,” the hippie man said.
Thinking to scope out a better angle on the situation, Harry worked his way around to the front of the table and peeked under the tablecloth again. The man’s ass was oscillating, piston-like, right in front of the plugs. Harry saw that he could make a grab for them when the man was in his downward thrust, but the slightest miscue would clearly result in a handful of hairy hippie ass. He timed the man’s gyrations — lingering overlong on the view in order to further embitter himself with the thought that he could never know such intimacy — then made a stab. Ass.
“Can I help you, man?” the hippie man said.
“Just looking,” Harry replied. I need a drink for this, he thought, rising up again. Spying a bottle of whiskey on the table, he snatched it up and took a long pull.
But if the liquor helped Harry to forget his troubles (and the couple under the table), it was only momentary. A mean drunk, he immediately started to drink himself into a state of heightened rage. Where was that presumptuous witch? He’d fix her for horning in on his scene — but first he had to get good and plastered. Liquor, he felt, was the source of much of his power, and the more he drank, the madder he became — until he was stomping around in a circle like Rumpelstiltskin. Who is this witch to trespass on my turf! She must think she’s some pretty hot shit to imagine she can take on the great Harry Smith! Aren’t those hippies through screwing yet?!
“Goddamn it!” Harry cursed aloud. “‘Heroin’ sounds like ‘Sugar Magnolia’!”
Leticia came up to throw fuel on the fire. “Oh look, Harry!” she cried out in glee. “Isn’t that groovy! They’re filming the party! Maybe we’ll get to be in a Warhol film!”
Harry noticed the camera set up on the other side of the room, trained on the band. “A film? Is that what’s going on around here? That charlatan! I can’t believe he tries to call himself a filmmaker. Have you seen his so-called ‘films’? A guy sleeping, for God’s sake, or six hours of the Empire State Building!”
“We went to that one together, Harry. It was our first date, a double feature. You slept all the way through it, resting your little head on my shoulder. It was so cute.”
“I’m the only filmmaker here!” Harry proclaimed bombastically. “I paid a dollar for that ticket, and I’m gonna demand my money back right now.”
“Actually, I was the one who paid,” Leticia pointed out.
Due to previous unpleasant encounters, Warhol’s entourage was under strict orders never to let Harry near Andy. In fact, there were pictures of Harry tacked up on the walls of the Factory, with the word BANNED stamped across his face. Consequently, the drag queen, Candy Darling, dressed to the nines in evening gown and heels, interposed herself between Harry and Warhol, who, having caught a glimpse of the unpopular sorcerer making his way through the crowd, cowered behind his camera.
“Let me stop you right there, honey,” Candy said. “Andy is busy right now. Can I help you with something?” A striking, statuesque blonde, Candy towered over the diminutive Harry.
“What?! Who the hell are you?!” Harry bellowed, not at all intimidated.
“Why, darling, I’m Candy Darling. But of course.”
“Yeah, right! And I’m Soda-Pop Sweetheart. Weren’t you the one who was just making out with my cameraman?”
“In your dreams, honey.”
“Yeah, well, hands off,” Harry said. “Warhol’s got enough sycophants in his cult without having to steal mine.”
“Oh, my God, little man,” Candy said, wrinkling her nose in disgust. “You’re stinking.”
“Don’t you ever bathe?”
“I’ll show you!” Harry glanced around, took hold of the curtains, and with a mighty yank, pulled them down, heavy brass rod and all, hitting Candy in the head and knocking her wig askew.
Candy put her hand to her head and brought it away covered in blood. “Christ, I’m bleeding. You repugnant little troll. Where’s the make-up girl?”
Harry thought to take this opportunity to slip by her and get to Warhol, but Candy was not finished yet. She grabbed Harry by the collar, straightened him up, and let him have it: a mighty right hook, straight to the teeth.
A minute later, back at the snack table, Leticia dabbed at a dazed Harry’s cut lip with some napkins. “There, there, Harry, don’t worry. We’ll get that nasty old drag queen back. She lives somewhere in this building, and I’m pretty sure she has a cat.”
While Harry was busy feeling sorry for himself, the evening’s hostess emerged from the bedroom, her flowing gypsy robes in a state of dishevelment, her make-up slightly smeared. Beautiful and vibrant with her wild mane of wavy, red hair, bare-armed and barefoot with bells and bangles dangling from wrists and ankles, Vali gave off a spiritual light that immediately brightened the room. The hippie-Earth-mother-goddess incarnate, with firm yet pendulous breasts and fertile, childbearing hips, she was every young man’s dream. Hell, every old man’s dream. As she flitted and skipped about the place, greeting guests, hugging and kissing and dancing with them, popping into the kitchen now and again to tend a fragrant pot of psychedelic love-stew, it became clear to Harry that it was Vali’s sunny influence, her radiant aura, that — more so than any spell — had all along been the source of the mysterious mood of love and good cheer that pervaded the party. Harry was speechless with awe and admiration, and with what he first mistook for hatred. What he found so obnoxious about Vali was her remarkable gaiety, the likes of which, having himself always been morose and depressive, he failed utterly to comprehend. All he knew was that he wanted Vali dead. It was a case of love at first sight.
Vali disturbed Harry’s equilibrium, for he felt himself strangely diminished in her presence. Obviously, she had a much better entourage than he, and he suspected that she was considerably further advanced in the dark arts, as well. Though he was unfamiliar with her exact species of witch, he could tell from the vibe — not to mention her appearance — that she was obviously not an ugly, wicked one, as Leticia had maintained. Perhaps she was a succubus of some sort, or a fallen angel. Maybe even a primal Earth spirit, Harry speculated, his imagination running wild. Although his instincts told him to flee, his will restrained him, for he wanted, above all else, to understand this strange being. Throughout his life, Harry’s guiding design had been to dominate, to make the world over in his own image, and yet, here was someone whom he could never hope to control.
Harry’s feelings were complicated even further when a handsome, young priest with a huge grin on his face emerged from the bedroom only moments after Vali, having obviously enjoyed a satisfying erotic encounter. A Frenchman with coal-dark hair and raffish good looks, Father Fabio had allowed Vali to turn him aside from the path of righteousness, and now gladly followed her down the primrose path to sin and damnation. Recently defrocked as a result of his transgressions, the former good father was unshaven and wore a threadbare old cassock, earning his meager living by selling counterfeit indulgences on the street. But such is the price of love. He was Vali’s present favorite — her sex-slave, actually, whom she had enchanted with her beauty. Witnessing the happiness of the love-besotted ex-clergyman, Harry bared his teeth, as he was consumed with an unfamiliar feeling that could only be called jealousy.
When Harry saw the priest embrace and kiss Vali, that was the last straw. He gnashed his teeth in torment. “That witch doesn’t deserve such a great apartment!” he declared — somewhat off-topic, but like most New Yorkers, housing issues were always foremost in his mind. “I’m trashing it!” As Leticia skipped nimbly out of the way, he swept the food from the snack table with a mighty swipe of his arm. Seizing the punchbowl and crying out, “Whoops! Sorry!” he sloshed it on the couple under the table. Laughing maniacally, he then overturned the table itself, exposing the dripping-wet couple — who had been contentedly enjoying a post-coital cigarette. Harry grabbed a lamp and threw it out the window, followed by the stereo, then the TV, which exploded into shards of glass and plastic on the sidewalk six floors below. He smashed full glasses of wine and beer and plates of food against the walls. He kicked Corso in the crotch again. Still, everybody was in such a good mood that they scarcely paid Harry any mind.
“Look at that silly, little man!” Warhol-Superstar Edie Sedgwick chirped, giggling girlishly. “He’s so angry!”
This enraged Harry all the more. He went into the kitchen and threw the toaster out the window, then the contents of the silverware drawer. He tried to lift the bubbling cauldron of psychedelic love-stew from the stove, but it was much too heavy, so he got a pan and ladled it out, slinging portions of the hot, spicy liquid onto the walls and out the window.
The people walking by out on 23rd Street didn’t think it was so funny when knives and forks and stew and TVs came crashing down around them, and so it wasn’t long before someone called the police. The partygoers heard the sirens coming, growing much louder when the police car turned onto the block, then cutting out abruptly in front of the hotel. A few people filtered out into the hall, ready to make a quick getaway should the situation devolve into head-busting and arrests.
“The cops are coming, Harry!” Leticia called out in warning.
“I hate cops!” Harry said, pausing in his attempt to stuff the snack table out the window. Though he had heard the sirens, their meaning had, until that moment, failed to register.
“And you hate jail even worse!”
“Oh, my God, you’re right!” Harry cried out in fright. He gave up on the bent and mangled table, leaving it hanging halfway out the window. Scanning the suddenly less-crowded, less-festive party room for his cameraman / bodyguard, he commanded, “Beat them up, Chuck!”
But Chuck was lounging in a drug-induced stupor on the couch, his arm around Holly Woodlawn, and he showed no inclination to engage in any course of action — suicidal or otherwise.
“Hurry up, Harry! You’ve got to get away!” Leticia said, tugging on his sleeve.
But it was too late. Two big cops, one Italian and one Irish, strolled into the room. “Hey, what’s with all this stuff you guys are throwing out on the street?!” the bigger one, the Italian cop, bellowed. “What’s the matter with you! You crazy? What do ya think this is, a nuthouse?”
“Quick!” Leticia said, pulling the terrified Harry along. “In here!” She shoved Harry into Vali’s bedroom, switching off the light. “Hide under the bed, and I’ll try to keep them out.”
Safe behind the locked door, Harry managed to regain a measure of his composure. There was no way he was going to hide under a bed, no way he was going to humiliate himself to that extent just because of a couple of dumb cops. Still, not willing to take any chances, he tried to push Vali’s large dresser in front of the door, and, failing in that, propped a chair against the handle, instead. He was going through the vials of magical elixirs, love potions, and anti-aging creams that he had discovered on Vali’s dresser, pocketing several, when a small rabbit — none other than Vali’s familiar — hopped out of the shadows in the corner and crouched, ears twitching menacingly, in the thin shaft of moonlight.
Letting out a yelp, Harry dove for cover under the bed. There in the darkness, shivering with fear and sneezing from the dust, Harry swore revenge on the rabbit — his mind working feverishly to concoct previously undreamt-of, and of course diabolical, Voodoo experiments — but also, more importantly, revenge on Vali. And he would have it, too, in spades. For Harry was destined within a year’s time to make Vali his bride in a ceremony that would shock the world — revolting many, while titillating Satan’s elect. The rabbit — whose name, by the way, was Rupert — would prove a more formidable adversary.
The 2015 Charter Oak Award for Best Historical
We are pleased to announce this piece as a finalist for the 2015 Charter Oak Award for Best Historical, honoring the independent press’ best writing on themes of historical people, places, events, objects, or ideas. The winners are selected by an external panel that judges all pieces blind and selects the full list of 12 finalists from hundreds of entries. Alternating Current does not determine the final outcome for the judging; the external judges’ decisions are final.
ED HAMILTON is the author of Legends of the Chelsea Hotel: Living with the Artists and Outlaws of New York’s Rebel Mecca (Da Capo, 2007) and the short story collection, The Chintz Age: Tales of Love and Loss for a New New York (Červená Barva Press, Fall 2015). His fiction has appeared in various journals, including Limestone Journal, The Journal of Kentucky Studies, River Walk Journal, Exquisite Corpse, Modern Drunkard, Lumpen, Omphalos, Bohemia, Poetic Story: An Anthology, and in translation in Czechoslovakia’s Host. His nonfiction has appeared in Experienced: Rock Music Tales of Fact and Fiction (Vagabondage Press LLC, 2011), as well as in Chelsea Now, The Villager, The Huffington Post, and other local NYC newspapers. You can find him at edhamilton.nyc.
Originally published on 9/4/15.