A Brooklyn Tale

Mine was a humble arrival in the most famous of America’s boroughs. I entered Park Slope, Brooklyn, New York in a rental car. I had been offered the car free if I would drive it to JFK from Chicago.  My liquidity was $600 cash, a backpack of tattered clothes, art supplies, and the promise of an apartment to sit while its occupants were on honeymoon. I would have ten days to find a place to live. It was 1982, the depths of the Reagan recession and eight months shy of my fortieth birthday.

Park Slope was still home to working class Irish and Puerto Ricans, but it was undergoing rapid gentrification. Every week, another real estate company opened on Seventh Avenue, Park Slope’s commercial hub. Mostly the neighborhood consisted of chopped up Gilded Age brownstones, rent-controlled tenements, and abandoned homes repurposed as hangouts for desperadoes and drug addicts.  It was a neighborhood in transition, still mostly working class and poor, but the inexpensive housing and proximity to Manhattan were an irresistible magnet for all manner of wannabe twenty-somethings: musicians, artists, illustrators, writers, playwrights, dancers, painters, sculptors, directors, actors, models…. There were a few well-known writers, musicians, and film people living on the Slope, but most incoming residents were ambitious career entrants.

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Five Million Yen: Prolog

Five Million Yen

A NOVEL BY

D. R. Harris

Synopsis

The prolog to my novel: Five Million Yen.  Ben Clarone, A-list musician, and his friend Anatoly Gringovitch, a fast-rising art world star, become involved in an art forgery caper that results in music, murder, betrayal, and romance played out in the rarified art and music worlds of New York, Paris, Hollywood, Nice, and Monte Carlo.

Prologue

July 21, 1948. Sherman, Connecticut

The lanky broken man walked with short quick steps on the uneven path. His long-fingered right hand held a length of cheap grocery store clothesline. He wore jeans, a black-and-white checked wool shirt and dress slip-on shoes without socks. His thinning black hair framed his pallid complexion. The whites of his eyes had a faint blue patina. A heavy leather-and-steel orthopedic brace encircled his neck. If he was in pain, it was not apparent from his facial expression, which seemed to relax into a beatific smile with each step. His legs, which initially felt heavy, shed weight as he switched his gait to a drag-leg hop-skip. In his native Turkish-Armenian, he repeated a three-word phrase until it became an unintelligible rhythmic singsong. A large mixed-breed dog and a dachshund followed the man. Ahead was a small three-sided shack situated beside a large stone crusher, remnants of a former resident’s mining ambitions. In the shack were stacks of empty wooden wine crates. The man entered the shack, took one of the wine crates and situated it under a roof joist. Standing on the wine crate, he tied the clothesline to the joist and made a slipknot at the lower end. He stepped off the crate and pulled a piece of white chalk from his pocket. On another wine crate he wrote Good-by all my loved. He wanted to write more, but the chalk broke. He tossed the pieces of chalk out the open side of the shack onto the grass. His mind was not his own. He was ready to escape the physical pain, misery, humiliation, career failure, ridicule and recent cuckoldry he had suffered. His life had become a lie. Even his American name was a lie. He had devoted his life to art, but art had walked out on him. He removed the leather and metal brace from his neck, dropping it on the earthen floor. He could smell the rising summer heat from the quarry. He stood on the crate, put the loop of clothesline around his neck, and without hesitation kicked the wine crate from under his feet. The clothesline stretched until his toes were an inch from the earth. His weakened neck made a sharp click sound. His last exhale caused his jeans to drop to his pubis revealing the bandages around his abdomen from his recent colon surgery. The dachshund began barking. The dead man was the acknowledged father of Abstract Expressionism: the painter Arshile Gorky.

July 21, 1948. Union Square, New York City

Unknown to the thief, the click of the lock on Gorky’s Union Square studio door in New York City coincided with the crack of Gorky’s neck in Sherman, Connecticut. The object he sought was the painting on the studio’s large easel. That painting, The Unfaithful Wife, depicted a nude woman lying on her back on an unmade bed, legs akimbo. She beckoned to the man who stood at one side of the bed. Her figure was foreshortened making her head appear smaller as it receded toward the headboard at the top of the picture frame while exaggerating the size of her legs and hips. The perspective made the naked man’s erection appear larger than normal; his eyes were glistening in anticipation of sexual pleasure. Both figures were painted with wild stabbing brush and palette knife strokes. The setting was a room filled with a pale rose and yellow fog, like blood in urine. Bodily details were intensified by impasto, a technique Gorky rarely used. There was enough detail to reveal, to those who knew the subjects and the painter, that the woman was Gorky’s wife Agnes Magruder and her lover the Chilean painter Roberto Matta. The painting was small for Gorky, 20 inches wide by 26 inches high; but with the neck brace and broken collarbone from a recent auto accident, it was as large a painting as he could manage. It was signed “a Gorky.” On the back was the date 19 July 1948. The title, The Unfaithful Wife, was crudely printed in cadmium red oil paint on the back of the painting along the upper stretcher bar.

The painting had been slashed with a knife from the upper left corner to the bottom right separating the woman from the man. The knife had been thrown into the wooden floor a foot from the easel with such force that the point was buried an inch deep. The thief, Roberto Matta, removed the painting from the easel; the paint had not dried and was tacky. He carefully wrapped it in white butcher paper. He locked the door of the studio and left with the painting. Gorky’s body had yet to be discovered in Connecticut. Matta began thinking about lunch with Agnes.

December 29, 1975. 12th Arrondissement, Paris

The man, a tall handsome Russian-American artist with jet black hair, full lips and soft dark eyes, sat at a table in a cozy non-descript bar near Gare de Lyon. The room consisted of a six-stool bar with three tables along the opposite mirrored wall. Ice from the freezing rain covered the small table outside on the sidewalk. Two prostitutes sat at the bar smoking and drinking wine. The sleet blanketed holiday decorations and rendered the Monday evening rush hour streets and sidewalks treacherous. From his position behind the bar, the bartender, a short stocky man with a Stalin mustache and thick blond hair, watched the sleet and rain blur the reflected automobile lights in the bar window.

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Darcy Eastland

He was the oldest person attending the wedding and reception. His brother Nick, the groom’s father, was only ten months younger than himself. His youngest brother Jack, five years his junior, was still the third oldest person there. Except for the groom’s extended family, the majority of the attendees were equally split between twenty-somethings and early-middle-aged relatives of the groom’s mother. To him the younger women, contemporaries of the bride, all sounded as if they were breathing helium. In addition to high inarticulate voices, their conversations were filled with up-talk, conjunctions conjoined to conjunctions and OMG’s in various flavors.

He was not drinking. He had been dry for three months and this was his first social gathering. He’d flown in from Paris, not so much for the wedding, but to be together with his brothers for probably the last time. The previous time they had all been together was fifteen years ago at their mother’s funeral.

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Night Book

Artist’s Note

The Night Book is a folio of mixed-media paintings: pencil, ink, watercolor, Aquarelle pencil & acrylic. The paintings began as pencil drawings made in my bedside Moleskine sketchbook while in that zone between wakefulness and sleep, a world devoid of reason but rich in images: half-formed, unrelated, surreal, erotic, even terrifying. A critic likened my phantasmagoric paintings to graphic poetry. Inspiration for the Night Book project came from Goya’s Los Caprichos (1799), and from François Desprez’s (1655) and Gustave Doré’s (1854) illustrations for Rabelais’s Pantagruel (1655), in my novel, The Nude Pianist (Fictionaut,­­­ 2016), a few of these paintings appear as the work of Francesco Martinelli.

All these drawings are protected by International Copyright. Click on the paintings to enlarge.

Night Book #21 Humpty Dumpty
Night Book #20
Night Book #3
Night Book #2
Night Book #15
Night Book #17
Night Book  #14

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