THE RULE OF MR. KLAUS by Peter Nolan Smith / Anthony Scibelli

In the early 70s the Twin Towers rose over Lower Manhattan with the promise of a bright future, but by 1975 New York City was declared bankrupt and seven million people lived on the edge of anarchy.

The project’s landfill created a desolation along the Hudson. The wind curled around the Twin Towers to blow sand in all directions and the middle class fled the city by the thousands.

The rich cared nothing for the poor and every morning wealthy passengers flew on faster-than-sound Concordes from JFK to Paris and London. Sean Coll heard the daily take-off in his East Village apartment. The Rolls-Royce engines were that loud.

Sean lived with a blonde catalogue model in his tenement apartment. For some reason he thought she loved him. Like most men he confused lust with love.

Lisa liked playing hard to get and she knew that role well. Days photographers shot her with cameras. At night she dated a tennis player and came home at dawn. Lisa liked playing hard to get and she knew that role well. At night Lisa dated a tennis player. She came home at dawn.

Sean never asked any questions, because the answers were too obvious.

When people wanted things, they called Sean.

Sometimes it was a girl.

Plenty of fun girls roamed New York.

They did things for money, because everything had a price.

The clients were usually were happy with his work.

Other times people got cute.

Cute got people hurt.

In the end playing nice was in people’s best interest.

Sean came from Boston. He had a reputation. It wasn’t a good one either.

At a party Tony, a photographer, introduced Mr. Klaus. Sean was not in best form. Lisa had not come home for two days.

“I might have some work for you,” the German businessman explained. “But I have one # 1 rule. You do what I say.”

Lisa had not come home for two days and Sean had not been in his best form.

“I might have some work for you.” Mr. Klaus said with a German accent. “But I have one rule. You do what I say.”

“I don’t have a problem with that. You know my price?”


“Then call me, when you need me, but not tonight.”

A day later Mr. Klaus asked Sean to meet a woman named Clover at the New Lost Bar in Times Square. Tony came over with a wad of twenties. Sean gave him a finder’s fee and asked, “You trust this Klaus?”

“I trust no one.”

Sean showed up on time. Clover arrived ten minutes late. The blonde teenager was no woman, but she was no girl either and she explained, “I was a mistress to a Texas oil baron at 13. Does that make me bad?”

“No, but it doesn’t make you good. Let’s have a drink.”

Sean ordered a gin-tonic. Clover had a martini.

The bartenders at the New Lost Bar never checked any girls for ID.

“Do some of this.” She handed him a vial. “Mr. Klaus wants you to.”

“Do you always do what he says?” She smiled with a laugh.

“When it comes to Mr. Klaus, yes.”

Clover danced on the bar table or at least Sean thought it was Clover. In truth it didn’t matter, because Lisa had been erased from his mind.

By the time they left the New Lost Sean was feeling no pain and Times Square looked like a pinball machine with Clover as the flippers and him as the ball.

Somehow they ended up in the subway.

Sean asked the conductor for help.

“You don’t need any help, if you got her.”

New Yorkers were experts at minding their own business.

The next stop was Mr. Klaus’ penthouse.

“Willkommen, time for some changes.”

Sean didn’t like Mr. Klaus’s welcome, but he was in no condition to refuse the scientist anything.

Sean was in no condition to refuse him.

Clover had her way with him.

Afterwards Mr. Klaus asked, “Do you feel different?”

“No.” It was a lie.

“Gut, I have a job for you. It might require violence.”

“I wouldn’t be here, if it didn’t.”

“An ex-associate has something of mine.”


“A ball on a box in a refrigerator.”

“And you only want the ball?”


“What does the ball do?”

“Does it really matter?”


“Clover really likes you.”

Where is she?”

“She is upstairs. You will see her later.”

Mr. Klaus drove him to a luxurious townhouse on the Upper East Side.

The street was quiet. The rich could afford order even in a city of chaos.

“That’s Cookie’s house. I’ll take care of her.”

“And me?”

“There’s a man with a gun.”

“Does he know who to use it.”


“Then he is just a man. Kill him.”

“That costs more.” Sean was many things, but not a killer.

“Maybe, but things will go bad for Clover.” Klaus showed a photo. It was Tony’s style.

He had others.

Klaus was worse than Clover’s Texas oil baron.

“Bring me the ball.”

“I will.” Sean didn’t say how.

The man with the gun was a young boy.

Sean strangled him to unconsciousness.

He was too young to die and too pretty too.

The steel ball seemed like a steel ball.

Sean held it in his hand.

He saw things.

One was that he could break Mr. Klaus’ rule.

On the stairs Mr. Klaus had a blonde bound by a rope.


She looked tough.

Sean nodded to her.

Cookie yanked on the rope.

Mr. Klaus tumbled down the stairs.

He didn’t stop until the bottom.

Sean left with the ball.

He was his own man again.

Sean found Clover in a bag.

He called a taxi and wrote on her thigh before freeing her.

“I thought you’d never come back.”

“You were wrong.”

“What did you write?”

“A poem. You can read it later.”

Sean took her to his place.

Lisa was gone.

She had taken everything, except for the TV and a set of weights.

“Nice apartment.”

Clover picked up a dumbbell.

“I want to be strong like you.”

It was a good idea.

New York was a tough town for the weak.

Sean turned on the TV.

Clover read the words on her thigh.

“I like your poem.”

“I wrote it for you.”

Her smile told him that she would be a good roommate.

He had the ball and he had Clover.

And both were good things in 1978, because like the sand by the river New York had no rules # 1 for the good, the bad, and the in-between.

Fotos by Anthony Scibelli and Peter Nolan Smith

Story and Art Direction by Peter Nolan Smith

Featuring Klaus Nomi, Cookie Mueller, Peter Nolan Smith, Clover Nolan, and Andy Reese

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