Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The Dark Veil: Chapter Three

Quinn strode purposefully along Riverside Drive until he reached the number Behan’s landlord had given him over the phone.  Despite its prestigious address and view of the Hudson, the pre-war brick building was badly run down; everywhere about it was the air of having seen better days.  Its front door was locked; there was no directory of tenants beside it.  Only then did Quinn realize he’d forgotten to ask the landlord for his apartment number.  He had no choice but to keep pushing doorbells until someone finally buzzed him in.
After having searched aimlessly back and forth through the hallways, Quinn finally found the apartment he wanted; it was located in a side wing on the ground floor.  The landlord himself turned out to be someone Quinn knew from the days when he’d lived on the West Side.  The man was a Ukrainian, not Russian as Sloane had told him, who had every weekend had set up a folding table on Broadway from which he’d sold brand new art books at huge discounts.  No one had ever discovered exactly where those books had come from.  Some had claimed they’d been lifted from the publishing companies’ warehouses, but that was only conjecture.  Quinn had ignored the neighborhood gossip and had regularly browsed the table’s offerings; occasionally he had bought some oversized volume that had caught his eye.  Usually it was a monograph of some lesser known photographer with whose work Quinn had wanted to become more familiar.  Over time he had struck up an acquaintance with the bookseller.  They’d stood in the open air talking about art and chess.  But Quinn had never bothered to learn his name, which he now discovered was Viktor.
The landlord looked Quinn over thoughtfully after the latter had introduced himself and explained why he was there.  “Yes, I remember you well enough,” Viktor said at last in his heavy Slavic accent.  He was almost seven feet tall, his large head surmounted by thick rings of curly gray hair, and so gaunt that his canvas work clothes hung loosely about him.  “You were one of the few who actually cared anything about art.  The others, they only pretended.  They bought from me because they’d heard the names Van Gogh and Picasso and decided their friends would be impressed if they found expensive art books piled high on the coffee table.  But people aren’t that stupid.”
“Yes, but I didn’t know then you owned an entire building here in the neighborhood.  That’s impressive.  I thought New York City landlords were too rich to have to work.”
“Rich.  Hah, that’s a good one.  You think any landlord gets rich owning a rent stabilized building in this city?  The rents barely cover the property taxes and maintenance.  What’s left over isn’t enough to live on, not even for a widower like me.  Lucky my children are all grown, or I’d have to sell the building just to have enough to feed them.”
Quinn saw his opening and took it.  “Is Behan’s old apartment still available?  Sloane asked me to take down the yellow tape from the door.  He told me you’d be looking to rent it out again now that the police have finished their investigation.”
“Yes, and as soon as possible too.  Even though I’m going to have to list it at a price that’s as far from market as I am from Kiev, I still need the money.”
“Why not let me have it then?” asked Quinn.  “I’m just back in town from San Francisco.  I don’t know how long I’ll be here, but right now I desperately need a place to live.  Behan’s apartment would suit me just fine.”
Viktor considered the idea.  “It’s strange how things work out, isn’t it?  I never had any idea you were Behan’s son.  All this time I was wondering why I hadn’t seen you on Broadway in so long.”
“You’re still out there selling books?  The weather’s getting pretty cold for that.”
“Pah, I had to give it up.  No one buys art books when times are hard.  Last year, I sold maybe one book in the entire month of December.  If no one’s buying them at Christmastime, then for sure no one’s going to pick them up in January when they have their credit cards to pay off.  So why sit in the cold and freeze my balls off for nothing?”
Quinn returned to the subject of the apartment.  “I can pay the rent.”
“If you were lying on the street starving, you could pay it.  That’s how low it is.”
“Then you’ll let me have it?”
“Why not?  If not you, then someone else.  At least you know something about art.  That’s more than I can say for most Americans I’ve met.”
“Thanks,” said Quinn.  He shook Viktor’s hand.  “Winter’s coming, and New York’s no place to be in cold weather without a roof over my head.  I don’t want them to find me frozen to death on a park bench one morning.”
“It can get rough out there all right,” Viktor agreed.  “This city has no pity.”
Quinn smiled broadly.  “I can also play chess with you if you ever want a game.”
Viktor put his hand to his head.  “As long as we don’t play for cash.  You should know I’ve nothing left to lose.”  He fished in his pocket and came up with a ring of keys from which he extracted one.  He handed it to Quinn.
“Don’t you want to see my money first?” Quinn asked.
“That’s not necessary.  I know who I can trust.  It’s an instinct I have.  The furniture is yours, of course, and whatever else Behan left behind.”
“I’ll need everything.  All I brought with me are the clothes on my back.”
“Good.  You’re saving me the cost of hiring the dumpster I’d need to cart it away.”
“I’m glad I got here in time then.  Sloane told me you’d probably toss all Behan’s photography once you’d gotten the all clear.  I didn’t want any of it to be lost.”
“You needn’t have worried,” said Viktor as he turned to enter his apartment.  “Behan’s work was impressive.  I would never have allowed it to be destroyed.”
Quinn took the key and headed up the stairs.
Behan’s one-bedroom was on the fifth floor.  There was no elevator in the building, and it was a long climb to the top.  Quinn was out of breath by the time he reached the uppermost landing.
Even if it were a walkup, the apartment had a working brick fireplace and a view of Riverside Park that more than made up for the inconvenience of reaching it.  The furniture was scratched but solid.  In the living room, Quinn was surprised to find Behan had created a complete photo studio.  Large Chimera softboxes stood in the center of the wooden floor surrounded by three Speedotron power packs.  Rolls of seamless background paper were propped upright against the whitewashed walls.  The tiny kitchen had been curtained off with black vinyl and turned into a wet darkroom.  Inside, a Durst enlarger sat on a counter.
The electricity and gas were still both working.  Quinn checked the telephone and found it too was still connected.  He hit the play button on the answering machine, but there was nothing there but a few automated sales calls that were most likely scams anyway.
Quinn put off any further investigation of the apartment’s contents.  He’d spent too much time in his cramped hotel room not to appreciate the luxury of having his own space and the privacy that came with it.  He stretched out on the sofa and stared out the window at the Hudson rolling past in the distance.

It was more than an hour later when Quinn, feeling refreshed, finally left the apartment to go buy himself some groceries.  On the way down the stairs he encountered a woman climbing up to the floor below his.  She was a redhead in her early forties wearing a black vinyl trench coat deliberately left open to better display her voluptuous figure.  Her plaid skirt was short enough to reveal a large red rose tattooed high up on one stockinged thigh.  A lit cigarette dangled from her lipstick smeared mouth.
“Hi, there,” she said as she passed Quinn.  Her voice was rough from years of chain smoking.  “You must be the new guy, the one who’s moving into Behan’s apartment.  Viktor told me he’d rented it out.”
“Word sure travels fast around here.”  Quinn gave the woman his brightest smile.  “And yes, I’m the new tenant all right.”    
“You were lucky to get the place.  Finding a rent stabilized apartment in this city is like winning the lottery.”
“Behan and I were family – he was my father – and I think that’s one reason Viktor was so easygoing when it came to letting me take the place over.”  He held out his hand.  “My name’s Quinn, by the way.”
The woman held out her own tobacco stained hand.  “Mine’s Mayla.”
“This seems like a great building to be in.  Have you lived here long?” Quinn asked.
“Only about two years, but it feels like forever since I moved from Cleveland.”
“Were you friends with Behan?”  Quinn kept his tone conversational.  “Now that he’s gone, I’d like to find out as much as I can about his last years.  You understand.”
“No, we never got to know one another that well.  He was a really quiet guy was Behan.  Once or twice he invited me to his place for a cup of coffee, but that was it.”  Mayla took another drag on her cigarette.  “Did the cops ever find out who murdered him?”
“Not yet.  I talked earlier to the detective handling the case.  He said they haven’t come up with any suspects.  He didn’t seem too confident they ever would.”
“Probably some kids out looking for a thrill.  That would be my guess.  Everyone says this city is so damn safe now, but you can still get killed walking to the supermarket.  Even in this neighborhood.”
“I guess you never saw anyone suspicious hanging around?”  Seeing Mayla raise her eyebrows, Quinn was quick to explain.  “If the police aren’t going to knock themselves out trying to find the killer, I thought I might as well look around on my own.  Maybe I can find something I can pass on to them.”
Mayla stubbed out her cigarette on the stairwell banister and then quickly lit another.  “Sometimes I’d see gorgeous women coming and going at odd hours.  That seemed sort of strange considering your father’s age.   He wasn’t the playboy type as far as I could tell.  And none of those women looked like they were getting ready to go on a date.”  She thought back.  “They definitely weren’t hookers.  I’d have known straight off if they were.  But Behan never struck me as kinky enough, or well off enough, to go in for that kind of fun.”
“That’s strange all right.”  It was Quinn’s turn to raise his eyebrows.  “‘Gorgeous’ you said?  I wonder who those women could have been.  It doesn’t make any sense to me.  Behan was always taking pictures, but he was into street photography, not fashion, and never worked with any models as far as I can recollect.  Then again, he did set up a photo studio in his living room.  I was wondering what that was all about.”  Quinn tried one last question.  “No one else then?”
“No, sorry.”  Mayla shook her head.  “I really wish I could be more of a help; but like I said, your father was a quiet guy and kept to himself.  No wild parties at three in the morning or anything like that, thank God.”
“I hope you don’t think I’m trying to give you the third degree or anything like that.  I’m not happy myself when people push me too hard for information.”  The memory of the interrogation he’d gotten from Sloane was still fresh in Quinn’s mind.
“No problem at all.”  Mayla didn’t bother removing the cigarette from her mouth as she spoke.  “It’s nice to know you’ve got so much feeling for family.  I have a daughter myself who’s 19 now and living out in LA trying to make it as an actress just like her mom.  I don’t even want to think about the kind of work she’s getting out there.  I never hear from her anyway.  Not even a card at Christmas.”
“The holidays aren’t that far away.  Maybe this season she’ll get in touch.”
“I’m not holding my breath,” said Mayla.  There was resignation in her voice.  “Well, Quinn, it was good meeting you but I’ve got to run now.  I’ve got a rehearsal for an Off Off Broadway play I’m starring in.  It’s a comedy.  I play a rich socialite having an affair with her suicidal psychiatrist while her husband recovers from brain surgery.”
“That sounds interesting all right.”  Quinn kept any reservations to himself.  “Are there any Off Broadway theaters still left in Manhattan?  I thought the real estate boom had managed to put them all out of business.”

“Tell me about it.  This company’s in Williamsburg.  I hate having to travel out to Brooklyn, but at least this time it’s not all the way to Greenpoint.”

Monday, January 29, 2018

Waiting for Spring

I walked through Central Park last week when the weather had turned a bit warmer and found winter still held the city tightly in its grip.  There wasn't much to be seen but withered leaves.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Fine Art Photo for Book Cover

I actually used this photo for the cover of my third novel, The Blue Hours, after first having cropped the scanned image in order to narrow the width in accordance with Amazon recommendations and then colorized it.  The result can be seen below.

The high contrast inherent in nfrared film turned the female nude in the original image at top into an almost abstract composition.  That in turn made it a good choice for use in a graphic design work such as a book cover.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Dark Veil: Chapter Two

Squeezed between two red brick Chinatown tenements, the Fifth Precinct stood at the same location on Elizabeth Street it had occupied since 1881.  From the outside, the white structure appeared much as it had in the nineteenth century.  Just as in old photographs, a black-painted fire escape ran down the building’s center and overhung the front door.  Inside, though, was different.   The interior of the station house had been modernized forty years before; it had been stripped of most of its antique d├ęcor.
Quinn arrived at 11 a.m.  At the sergeant’s desk, he was directed to the homicide division on the second floor.  He looked about for an elevator, then began climbing the carved oak staircase, one of the few remnants of the building’s former glory. 
At the second door on the right Quinn caught sight of a hunched figure sitting at a battered desk covered with crumpled papers and empty coffee cups.  Quinn stopped long enough to rap loudly on the doorframe before entering.
The man looked up.  He was short but powerfully built.  His grey hair had been cropped close enough to his bullet shaped skull that he could have posed as a drill instructor on a Marine recruiting poster.  The stained white shirt and polyester tie he wore were completely out of place on his squat frame.  They gave the impression he had grabbed the first things that had come to hand while shopping at a discount clothing outlet.
Quinn had interrupted the man’s lunch, or perhaps it was only a late breakfast.  A cheeseburger lay on the desktop and beside it a broken McDonald’s bag with fries spilling out in every direction.  A cockroach crawled across the desk’s wood grain surface along a trail of grease. 
The man gave Quinn an appraising look before taking another bite of his food.  “I’m Detective Sloane.  Can I help you?”  His voice wasn’t much more than a deep growl.
“My name’s Quinn.  You called my number in California last week and left a message.  A man named Behan had been found murdered near here, you said.  You asked if I were going to be in New York anytime soon.”
“Yeah, I remember.  You’re the next of kin, right?  Sorry about your old man.”  Sloane grunted the last sentence perfunctorily; his words conveyed no trace of genuine sympathy.  He’d said the same phrase too often for it to any longer have meaning.
“Yes, Behan was my father all right.  I hadn’t seen him for years, but he was family.”  Quinn kept his eyes on the detective.  “Do you need me to identify the body?”
Cheeseburger clutched in hand, the detective waved off the offer.  “No need.  His landlord took care of that a couple of days ago.  The paperwork’s already on file.”
“Good enough.”  Some of the tension went out of Quinn’s stance.  “It wasn’t something I was looking forward to.”
“The body’s been claimed; the funeral’s set for Tuesday.”  The detective burped.  “Damn it,” he said.  “This fast food will be the death of me yet.”  He jerked his finger toward an open bottle of Pepto-Bismol perched precariously on the radiator cover behind him.
“What is it you need from me then?” Quinn asked.
“You’re just got in, right?”  Sloane motioned his visitor to a seat opposite his desk.
Quinn nodded.  “I caught a flight out of SFO as soon as I was able.”
“Appreciate you coming all this way.”  Sloane leaned forward.  “I contacted you because you were the only relation I could locate.  But if you and your father hadn’t seen each other in – how many years did you say it was? – I’m not sure you can be of much help.”
“It’s been over ten years.”  Quinn planted himself on the rickety wooden chair.
Sloane put the cheeseburger down.  “I take you and he weren’t on the best of terms.”
Quinn bristled.  “We didn’t have an argument if that’s what you’re getting at.  Behan and my mom got divorced when I was still in grade school.  She took me to live with her and changed my name to hers.  Even later – after I’d finished college and gotten a place of my own – I still never got to see much of my father.  He’d never been that big a family man to begin with.  Wasn’t home all that often that I can remember.”
“No idea what Behan was up to lately then?  What friends he had?  What enemies?”
“Sorry.”  Quinn shook his head.  “Truth is, I wasn’t even sure he was still living in the city until I got your call.”
“I get the idea,” said Sloane.  He burped a second time.  “I guess it’s fair to say you weren’t sending him any boxes of cigars on Father’s Day.”
Quinn shrugged off the question.  “Does anyone still do that?”
The detective picked up what was left of the cheeseburger and took another bite.  “You’re a photographer, aren’t you?  The old man took pictures too, I know.”
Quinn’s face flushed and the lines around his mouth tightened.  “You’ve been checking up on me, haven’t you?  I don’t know that I like that very much.”
Sloane barely glanced at him.  “Checking up on people is what we police do for a living, and I personally don’t give a shit whether you like it or not.”
“You’ve got no reason to get tough with me, Detective.  I’m no criminal.”
“Maybe not now you aren’t, but you weren’t always such a boy scout, were you?” Sloane flicked open a file.  “I pulled your rap sheet.  You got busted back in ’95 for dealing.”
Quinn jumped up from his seat and stood facing the detective.  “What kind of shit are you trying to pull?  That was twenty years ago.  I was still in college back then.”  He glared at Sloane.  “And I was selling nickel bags of weed, not pushing heroin to schoolkids.”
Sloane regarded him coolly.  “It’s still illegal, isn’t it?”
“If you’d done your homework better, you’d know the charges were dropped and the arrest record sealed.”
“Don’t get smart with me.  I don’t need you to tell me how to do my job.”
“Oh, no?  Well, before you tell me how on top of things you are, you should take a look at your desk.  The whole time you’ve been sitting there bullshitting, your cheeseburger’s been leaking all over the papers you’ve got so carefully spread out.”  Quinn pointed to a red-stained folder.  “Is that my file with the ketchup smeared across it?”
“Fuck you, asshole.  You keep your mouth shut when I’m talking to you.”  The detective’s voice was as cold as his eyes.
Quinn, still standing, looked at the wall behind the detective’s desk where there hung a wooden board filled with military decorations.  He nodded towards the medals and ribbons.  “I guess you think having been a soldier gives you a right to act tough.  Where’d you serve?  The Gulf War?  I was never in the army myself.  Never figured I’d missed anything.”
Sloane didn’t allow himself to be drawn in.  “It’s not your dealing weed that bothers me.  It’s the guys who supplied you.  You want to hear a cute story about your friends?”
“I don’t have many friends, and I don’t like stories that don’t have happy endings.”
“Let me tell you anyway,” Sloane went on.  “In those days there was a new dealer on Concourse, fresh in from Jamaica with a load of ganja to sell.  He thought he was badass and that those long haired white boys you hung with were nothing but a bunch of hippies singing All You Need is Love.  The guy was sure he could pull a bait & switch and no one would be the wiser until long after he’d taken off with the money.  Big mistake.  Your friends had him pinned from the start, probably because in his place they’d have pulled the same stunt themselves.  They grew a bit peeved at reggae man.  So you know what they did to teach him a lesson he’d never forget?  They put his hand down on a gas burner till the room stunk of burning flesh, then told him if he ever tried to pull that shit again they’d do the same, except next time it would be his face they put on the burner.”
“Heartwarming story, Detective, but it’s got nothing to do with me.  I was never around any scene like that.  If it ever happened in the first place, that is.”
“You think you’re one fucking hard guy, don’t you?”
Quinn’s pulled himself up and his blue eyes flashed.  “What gives with you?  I’m not a suspect or even a witness in Behan’s killing.  I’m just a fucking bereaved family member.  I thought you cops were supposed to offer words of comfort in a situation like this.  Instead, you’ve got nothing better to do with your time than sit there and get in my face.”
Sloane continued talking as though he hadn’t heard a word Quinn had said.  “Your old man had problems with the law too.  Like father, like son, I guess.”
“Whatever Behan did, he paid for a long time ago.”  Quinn struggled to control himself.  “There’s no need to go digging into it when he’s no longer here to defend himself.”
“Why the hell not?  His arrest record was sure as shit never sealed.”
“It’s ancient history now that he’s dead.  You’re only bringing it up so you have an excuse not to go looking for whoever killed him.”
“You showed up in court the night he got busted,” Sloane went on.  “You were the one who arranged bail for him.  And you were at his trial too, weren’t you?  Sitting there every day watching the jurors to see which way they’d swing.”
Quinn eyed the detective with new interest.  “How do you know all that?  It wasn’t in any of your damn files, that’s for sure.”
“You don’t remember me at all, do you?”  There was truculence in Sloane’s voice.  “Why don’t you take a shot and try thinking back to where you might have seen me before?”
“You know damned well I’ve never seen you in my life before today.”  Quinn shook his head in disgust.  “And if I never see you again, it’ll be too soon as far as I’m concerned.”
“Well, if you can’t figure it out, then let me clue you in.  I don’t want the suspense getting to you.”
“I’m listening, Detective.”  Quinn fairly spat the last word out.
“I was the one who cuffed Behan that night in the Bronx when he got caught red handed robbing a liquor warehouse in Hunt’s Point.   I was the one who tried to talk him into cutting a deal and telling us who was in on the job with him.  He wouldn’t snitch though.  Instead, he took the rap himself.”
Quinn clenched his fists and started toward the detective, then just as quickly regained control and sat back down.  “Oh yeah, man, I know you now.  I remember you testifying at the trial.  You’re the fuck who put my old man away.  He was just the lookout on that robbery, not one of the heavies holding a gun on the workers.  Shit, Behan wasn’t even armed.  It was nothing but bad luck he was there when you broke down the door.”
“I gave him a chance to come clean.  He wouldn’t take it.”
“The others would have killed him in a minute if he’d ratted them out.  You knew that, but you didn’t care.  You sent him straight up the river when he wouldn’t roll over.”
“I was doing my job.”
 “Fuck that.  Was it your job to make sure he was locked up where only the worst were sent?  You must never have thought he’d survive in Dannemora.  You probably expected him to hang himself in his cell.  That was one messed up thing you did.”
“Oh, was it?”
“You know it was.  And now you’re sitting here giving me shit instead of looking for his killer.  Is it to get back at him that you’re giving me a hard time, or do you just want to save yourself some legwork?”
Sloane pounded his fist on the desk.  “If I’m digging up the past it’s because I’m trying to get to the bottom of what happened to you father.  Can’t you understand that much?”
Quinn snickered.  “Like I’m stopping you.  The reason I’m here in the first place is to try to help, not that you’re showing any appreciation.  If you’ve got any more questions for me, go ahead and ask.  I’m not going to lie to you.”
“You’ve been away from the city a long time.  Out in ‘Frisco where Tony Bennett left his heart.  Want to tell me what you’ve been up to out there?  Even if the travel photography you shoot keeps you on the move – and yes, I checked that out too – the magazine you work for has offices in New York.  You could work the gig just as easily if you were living here.”
 “What the hell has that got to do with anything?” Quinn demanded.  “Since when does someone need an excuse to want to move out of this damn city?”
“Just consider me curious.”  Sloane stuffed a handful of fries in his mouth.
“Not that it’s any of your business, but I was out west taking care of my sick sister.  Is that good enough for you?”
“So now you’re Florence Fucking Nightingale, is that it?”  Sloane almost choked on his food.  “Save your bullshit for someone else and give it to me straight.”
Quinn pounded his fist on the arm of his chair.  “I am being straight with you, you shithead.  Is it my fault you’re too stupid to see it?  I was in California because my sister was dying of cancer.  Aside from Behan, I was the only family she had left.  Do you get it now?  I’m the one who sat by her bed for three years watching the life draining out of her a little more each day.  You think I’m nothing but some coldhearted hood, don’t you?  Maybe once you’d have been right to think that.  Maybe there was a time I thought I was a hard guy.  Not anymore though.  There’s no way I could sit next to a deathbed day after day without it changing something inside me, making me realize that not only was I losing my sister but that my own time would be coming soon enough.  These days I’m not so tough and I’m not looking to cause trouble.  Not for you, not for anyone.  Whatever grudge you’re carrying from all those years ago, you can stick it up your ass.  I don’t want any part of it.  As far as I’m concerned, the past is over and done with.”
Sloane had listened to Quinn’s outburst in silence.  He kept up his stare but it had lost its hard edge.  A trace of doubt had crept into his eyes.  When he spoke, he was less sure of himself.  “So, I’m sorry about your sister,” he said at last.  “My mother died of cancer too.  It was from the cigarettes she smoked all her life.  Two packs a day for forty years.   It wasn’t any fun for me either watching her gasping for air until finally her lungs gave out and she stopped breathing altogether.”
“Then maybe you understand something of what I went through.”
“Yeah, maybe I do at that,” Sloane agreed, “but that doesn’t mean I don’t still have a job to do.  I need to find out from you as much as I can about Behan.”
“There’s nothing I can tell you.  I only saw my father once after I moved out of New York.  I don’t know anything about how he was killed or who might have done it.  If I hadn’t gotten your phone call, I wouldn’t even have known he was dead.”
“What about friends?” 
“Are you kidding me?  How many friends does an ex-con have?  ‘Cause that’s all he was, thanks to you.”
“There must have been someone.”
Quinn stood and walked to the window overlooking Elizabeth Street.  “Behan had two friends from his college days in the ‘60’s that he was still in touch with the last time I talked to him.  One was named Stu Shaley.  He’s a photographer also.  I checked out his website before I flew out here and saw he has a studio now in Soho.  I was planning to talk with him myself.  I can put you in touch if you want.”
“Don’t bother.  If the address is online I can find it myself.”  Sloane scribbled a note to himself on the outside of the McDonald’s bag.  “Who’s the other friend?”
“Name’s Herbert Lachner.  He used to work for one of the big accounting firms.  I don’t remember which one offhand.”
Sloane’s eyes shot up, but he recovered himself at once.  “Oh, yeah.  I already know about him.  His name was in an address book we found on the deceased.”
“What’s the big deal with Lachner?” Quinn asked.  Sloane’s look of surprise hadn’t escaped him.  “What have you got on the guy?”
“Nothing.  Just reminding myself I have to take another look at that address book.”
Quinn gave the detective a skeptical look but didn’t follow up on his question.  “Anything else you need to know about Behan that I can help you with?”
Sloane took another cheeseburger out of the McDonald’s bag and began chewing on it without even taking off the wrapper.  He just spit the paper out as he talked.  “He didn’t have a job.  How did he make the rent?”
“I’m sure he wasn’t doing anything illegal if that’s what you getting at.  He wasn’t a criminal to begin with.  Once he’d served his time, all he cared about was staying as far from trouble as he could.  No way he was ever going to do anything that would put him back in prison.  He worked whatever two-bit jobs he could find, but mostly he stayed busy with his photography.  He didn’t make money off it, but it kept him going.”
“Most ex-cons usually end up back inside no matter how hard they try.”
“Not Behan.”
“No,” Sloane conceded.  “I checked that too.  His sheet’s been clean since he was let out.  Not even a traffic ticket.”
There was a commotion in the hallway outside.  Two burly uniforms were dragging between them a cuffed shaven-headed suspect wearing a tank top with the word “Peace” emblazoned on its front.  “You’ve got the wrong guy,” the suspect was screaming.  “That wasn’t my gun.  I never shot nobody.”  His eyes met Quinn’s.  Quinn stared back but didn’t say anything.  Sloane didn’t bother to look up.
Quinn waited until the noise had died down and then turned back to Sloane.  “You think you could tell me something about the way my father was killed?  The news reports I saw didn’t have many details, just that he’d been shot.”
“We don’t give everything out to the media,” the detective explained.  “We try to hold back things only the killer would know.  It helps when we question a suspect.  Sometimes we can trip him up that way.”
“Can you at least tell me how he died?”
“You’re next of kin, so you deserve that much.”  Sloane pulled a wad of ketchup-stained paper out of his mouth and tossed it into the wastebasket beside his desk.  “Do you know where Cortlandt Alley is?  It’s only a few blocks from here.”
“Yeah, I know it.  There isn’t much to it, is there?  As I recall, it’s just a narrow opening between two tenements on Canal Street.  Not the sort of place to go for a late night stroll – it’s dark and empty and doesn’t lead anywhere.”
“That’s where we found Behan.  He’d been shot with a .32 at close range.  Only one bullet, but it went straight through the heart.  He would have died instantly.  No witnesses, of course.  By the time a passerby spotted him the next morning, he’d been dead a few hours.  The pigeons were already pecking at his eyes.”
Quinn waited for the detective to continue.
Sloane shrugged his shoulders.  “That’s all we’ve got so far.  No suspects, no weapon, no motive.”
“Oh, come on,” Quinn shouted out loud.  “You’ve got to be kidding me.  It’s been over a week since Behan went down.  I’d have thought you guys would have come up with at least a few leads by now.  Someone must have seen something.”
A troubled expression crossed Sloane’s face.  He threw up his hands.  “We’re doing everything we can.  The problem is that we don’t have anything to go on.  Behan had no enemies we know of.  There was no reason we can come up with why anyone would want him dead.  He could have just been in the wrong place at the wrong time.  It might have been nothing more than a random mugging gone bad.  Some hopped up junkie might have gotten nervous and jerked the trigger before your father had a chance to hand over his wallet.”
Quinn leaned forward and his voice grew quiet.  “In other words, NYPD is just going to write it off as unsolved and close the case.”
Sloane answered through clenched teeth.  “Homicides are given top priority.  Even when the victim is nothing but a down and out ex-con, we still turn the city upside down to find the killer.  So wake up.  I’m not going to argue with you that nobody’s shedding tears over your old man.  He didn’t deserve any.  But that doesn’t mean we’re going to let a murderer run loose through Manhattan.   Who knows who he might take out next time?”
“I can’t believe you guys wouldn’t be doing more if it had been some friend of the mayor who’d been shot.”
“A friend of the mayor wouldn’t have been wandering around Chinatown by himself after midnight.”
“Maybe not.  Who knows?  But Behan wasn’t a bad guy, no matter what you say, and he deserves a better deal than he’s getting from you.”
Sloane’s face darkened with anger.  “I don’t have to sit here listening to any sermons.  Not from you least of all.  You want action, then give me something I can follow up on.”
“Just because Behan and I were family that doesn’t mean we were all that close.  My father kept to himself.  Even before I moved west, I only saw him once every few months.”
“You both lived in the same neighborhood, didn’t you?”
“Before I left town, I was in a brownstone on 83rd.  Behan still had the rent stabilized apartment on Riverside Drive where he’d lived for years.  He had too good a deal to move – a one-bedroom overlooking the Hudson for less than a thousand a month.”
“That sucks.”  Sloane hammered his fist on the desk.  A handful of fries fell to the floor.  “I’m squeezed with my wife and two kids into a lousy two-bedroom in Rego Park that I’m shelling out over $2,500 a month for, and all the while your no-account father is living the good life on the fancy Upper West Side.  You think that’s fair?”
“This is a rich man’s town.  Rent stabilization is the only thing keeping what little middle class is left in this city from being thrown under the bus once and for all.  Even out in California we know that much.”
“All right, let’s skip it,” said Sloane in disgust.  “I’m a detective, not a social worker.” 
“If you ever want to change careers, I know a senior center uptown that could use your help.”  Quinn laughed aloud at the thought.  “If there’s nothing else, can I leave now?”
“Yeah, we’re done here.  For now anyway.  But I’d appreciate it if you’d stay in touch.  Maybe something will come to mind.”
“Fair enough.”  Quinn paused as he rose from his seat and put on his jacket.  “By the way, what’s going to become of Behan’s things once you’ve finished your investigation?”
“Why do you want to know?”
“Because he took some decent photos, that’s why.  I’d hate to see them lost.  Behan was an incredible photographer even if no one ever thought so but me.”
“You’re family, so you have as much right to his possessions as anyone.  Nobody we talked to seems to think those photos Behan left behind are worth a damn anyway – they looked like crap to me – so the landlord will probably end up tossing the lot if you don’t take them first.  Give the guy a call and tell him I said it’s ok.  Last time I talked to that crazy old Russian he seemed a lot more concerned with the money he was losing on a vacant apartment than with whatever Behan had left inside.”  Sloane wrote a number down on a cheeseburger wrapper and handed it to Quinn.  “When you talk to him, you can tell him forensics is finished with the apartment.  I was planning to go over there tomorrow to take the crime scene tape down.  You can save me a trip.”
“Thanks.  I appreciate the information.  Maybe you’re not such a prick after all.”
“Don’t get sentimental on me.”  Sloane stood up and offered his hand after first having used a soiled napkin to wipe away the grease.  “For that matter, you might not be as big an asshole as I first thought either.”
“That’s not much of a compliment,” Quinn said as he shook hands, “but I’ll take it.”

After leaving the precinct, Quinn walked the short distance to the murder scene.
Cortlandt Alley was really nothing more than a nasty slit of asphalt that opened between two graffiti covered brick buildings, one of which had long ago had all its upper floors completely boarded shut.  Inside its entrance, there was a clothing stand that sold counterfeit designer goods.  From there, the alley meandered three blocks south to Franklin Street before coming to an abrupt end. 
A scattering of weeds, growing between cracks in the pavement, gave the blackened asphalt its only color.  The steel-reinforced doors fronting the alley were unnumbered. They were sealed with rusted padlocks that looked not to have been opened in decades.  There were no streetlights in the alley, only a few widely spaced fixtures that at night must have provided, at best, only spectral illumination and left untouched the deep pools of liquid shadow between them.
        It was as desolate a place in Manhattan as any to die alone.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Dark Veil: Chapter One

New York. The world’s most dramatic city. Like a permanent short circuit, sputtering and sparking up into the night sky all night long. No place like it for living. And probably no place like it for dying.                                      
                                            –  Cornell Woolrich, “New York Blues”

The first attempt to kill him had failed.  But not by much.
The budget hotel at which Quinn had registered was in the West 30’s just east of Herald Square.  During the day, the street was packed with office workers and tourists moving in a steady line toward Fifth Avenue.  In the evening, though, once rush hour had ended, the block took on a different character.  During those nighttime hours, there were few to be seen about other than the furtive middle aged men, heads bent low and hands in pockets, entering and exiting the “gentlemen’s cabaret” on the south side of the street.  At the other end of the block, the one where the hotel was located, there were only shadows.
But Quinn hadn’t chosen the establishment for its ambience.  With single rooms costing only $115 a night, it had turned out to be one of the few places in Manhattan he’d been able to afford.  After he’d seen the rates, Quinn had stopped caring about the black plastic bags filled with trash that lined the sidewalk outside the lobby windows or even the broken streetlight that left the middle of the block in almost total darkness once the sun had set.  The tiny space to which he’d been shown had been clean if sparely furnished.  That had been good enough for him.
It was almost midnight and the end of Quinn’s first day back in the city.  He was walking briskly after having had a late dinner of barbecued bulgogi at a Koreatown restaurant.  He’d found plenty of places to choose from – they lined both sides of 32nd Street from Broadway to Fifth – but most had been tourist traps serving only second rate fare.  He’d passed them by, looking briefly through the window of each, until he’d finally come across the one establishment that was thronged with Koreans talking and laughing loudly among themselves.  He’d gone in then without bothering with whatever letter grade the Department of Health had pasted on the front window.
Inside, Quinn had been directed to a table near enough the entrance that he’d been able to watch the crowds passing outside.  While the hostess had busied herself lighting the barbecue’s gas jet, Quinn had looked up at the pre-war office buildings across the way.  Their upper floors were crowded with businesses that ranged from travel agencies to pool halls, most of them fronted with bright illuminated signs that advertised their offerings in both English and blocky Korean script.  A few windows were dark and had been heavily curtained to hide the goings-on in the massage parlors behind them.
After he’d finished his meal and washed it down with two OB beers, Quinn paid the check in cash and headed back to the hotel.  He didn’t stop to do any sightseeing on the way.  The flight from San Francisco had been a long one.  And the damp drizzle falling across the New York City streets didn’t offer any inducement to remain outdoors.  As Quinn pulled his leather bomber jacket tighter about him and raised the top of his hoodie over his head, he passed an electronic sign in the corner newspaper stand that showed the temperature had dropped below the freezing mark.
Though Quinn had read all the stories about how safe New York had become during his absence, he still kept a wary eye on his surroundings as he walked the short distance to the hotel.  He’d learned the hard way that violence can erupt without warning in any big city.  As he turned onto his corner and entered the well of darkness under the broken streetlight, he paused long enough to scan the darkened doorways and make certain no one was lurking within them.
As Quinn stood shivering in the rain, a loud crash resounded on the sidewalk directly in front of him.  It was at the exact spot where he would have been walking if he hadn’t stopped short.
Quinn reacted.  He threw himself against the side of the building; only when safely in its shelter did he try to figure what had happened.  Even in the dim light, he was able to make out a pile of broken bricks lying in the middle of the pavement.
Knowing the shadows around him were too deep for anyone to be able to see him from above, Quinn stepped away from the building and turned his eyes upward.  There was nothing.  The office building in front of which he stood was closed for the night.  No security guard stood stationed behind its locked entrance.  The lights on all the floors had been turned off.  Beyond the first two or three stories, everything was cloaked in blackness.  The building itself was lost to view as it rose high into the night.
It had been the darkness that had saved Quinn.  The individual who’d tossed the bricks hadn’t been able to properly make out his target.  Whoever it had been was gone by now.  He’d have scrambled to find the nearest exit without having waited to see what damage he’d done.
Quinn lowered his eyes and once again surveyed his surroundings.  No one seemed to have heard the noise, loud as it had been.  The street was still deserted. 
As Quinn bent down for a closer look, he saw that most of the bricks had shattered on impact and only one or two been left whole.  The force of their fall had cracked the sidewalk beneath them.  He picked up one undamaged brick and studied it carefully as he turned it over in his hand.  Then he tossed it back in the pile with the others.
Raising his head, Quinn took a last look at the building looming over him.  He whistled softly before continuing on his way.
When he arrived at the hotel’s front desk, Quinn gave the clerk his room number.  His tone was casual.  He didn’t say anything about what had happened outside.
The clerk, who smelled of liquor, was only in his early thirties but he’d already grown paunchy and was beginning to lose his hair.  He suppressed a yawn as he handed Quinn the old fashioned metal key.  “Did you have an enjoyable evening, sir?” he asked in a voice that couldn’t have shown more plainly how little interest he had in the answer.
“Sure did,” said Quinn right back at him.  “It’s one hell of a town you’ve got here.”

The same flat fluorescent glare flooded every corner of the West Side senior center.  It exposed the cracked plaster and peeling paint that would have been better left obscured.  Even in the men’s room there was no escaping the harsh illumination.  The chrome pipes and porcelain fixtures gave off a brittle gleam beneath it. 
As Quinn examined his face in the mirror, he saw exactly how cruel the cold light could be. It picked out the lines that cut across his forehead and only grew deeper each year.  His fair skin was rendered translucent and his eyes a paler shade of blue.  His wavy hair, once copper colored, was streaked with grey.  Although his six-foot-six frame was still athletic and powerfully muscled, he was forty years old and looked every day of it. 
Quinn dried his hands on a paper towel and reached for his black hoodie.  Before stepping away, he stomped a waterbug scurrying across the tiled floor.
It was not quite nine o’clock, but the center’s cafeteria was already filled with the elderly and infirm lining up for breakfast.  For the most part, they stood patiently with their empty trays in their hands.  There were a few, though, who complained loudly, just as they did every day, of their unhappiness at having to wait.  Not that anyone paid them any mind.  All were frail; a few used canes and walkers to keep themselves upright.  Behind the tarnished metal counter, workers in white aprons stacked trays and plates.
“We ask for a dollar contribution,” the woman seated at the entrance told Quinn.  She was so old that her white hair had yellowed until it was once again almost blonde.
“I’m not a senior yet, just visiting.  I was hoping to talk with a few of the regulars.”
“If you’re not over 60, then the guest rate is three dollars,” the woman informed him.  Her voice quavered.  “No one is turned away if they aren’t able to pay.”
“I’ve got the money, don’t worry.”  Quinn slid three singles into the opening of a locked metal box and in return got a cardboard tag with the number 57 handwritten on it.
Quinn took his place on line.  When his turn came, a worker handed him a bowl of oatmeal.  Further down, he received a banana and a mug of coffee.  The decaffeinated brew gave off a bitter smell.  Its surface shone with the same iridescence as an oil slick in a rain storm.
Passing into the dining room, Quinn saw an old man eating alone at a plastic-topped table. “Mind if I sit beside you?” he asked.
“No, help yourself.  No need to ask that here.”  The seated figure moved to make room.  He was a large black man heavy and solid enough to have once been a boxer or bouncer.  His scarred face only strengthened the impression.  “I could use the company.”
“Thanks.  I appreciate it.”  Quinn sank into an empty chair and began to peel his banana.  The fruit was dark and bruised.
The old timer stirred his coffee with a plastic spoon.  “Are you new here?  I don’t ever remember seeing you before.”  He looked Quinn up and down.  “To tell you the truth, you don’t appear old enough, or broken down enough, to need be in a place like this.”
“No, you’re right on both counts,” Quinn replied.  “I’ve never been here before and I’m not a senior citizen.  I just wanted to find out if anyone here knew a friend of mine who used to live in the area and might have stopped by once in a while.”
“I don’t know if I can help you there,” the old man replied.  He sipped his coffee.  “The way the neighborhood’s been changing, people come and go all the time.  I haven’t been here all that long myself.  Just staying over until I get fixed up somewhere permanent.  That might take a while though.  The social workers, they try to find us apartments to live in, but no one wants the poor.   And there ain’t hardly any space left anyway in this city, not unless you’re rich.  Then you can go live wherever you want, even on Park Avenue.”
“Where were you before?” Quinn asked.  “Somewhere nearby?”
“Me, I used to live with my old lady up on 137th Street.  She had herself a nice place that had good heat in the winter.  And she treated me fine.  Then one day she went and died.  I was out on the street before she’d even been laid in the ground.  A damned shame, but nothing I could do about it.  You see, we’d never gotten ourselves legally married.  The landlord told me I had no right to be there.”
“I’m sorry to hear.”  Quinn drank some of his coffee.
The old timer’s face furrowed.   “What did you say your friend’s name was?”
 “Behan.  He was a big man, almost my size, about 70, long grey hair falling over his shoulders.  He was a photographer, always carrying a camera with him wherever he went.”
 “Yes, I do believe I remember him now that you mention it.”  The old man snapped his fingers.  “He was a funny guy, all right, if we’re speaking of the same person.  The man dressed like a hippie and talked like it was still the 1960’s.”  He chuckled.  “I don’t know about the long grey hair though.  Fact is, I don’t remember him having much hair at all.”
“He and I had been out of touch for a while,” Quinn admitted.  “People change.”
“That they do, and not usually for the better.”  The old man leaned closer to Quinn.  “Listen, I don’t think anybody here’s going to be able to tell you much about your friend Behan.  The man never socialized.  Came in for a meal fairly often – always looked as hungry as if he hadn’t had a scrap of food for days – and was polite enough.  But as soon as he was done eating, he’d get up and walk out the door without saying a word to anyone.  He was a loner and kept to himself.  None of us knew where he lived or what his circumstances were.”
“He was that way in the old days too,” Quinn said.  “Always on his own.”
“You’d know better than me.  I just said hello when I passed him in the hallway.”
Quinn rested his elbows on the table.  “That’s pretty much what I expected to hear when I came in the door.  But I figured I might as well give it a shot.”
“No harm in that, none whatsoever.”
At the far end of the room, a well-dressed woman got up and began to harangue those eating at the tables nearest her. “Two hundred dollars a month,” Quinn heard her exclaim.  “Think of all the food you can buy with that.”
“Who’s she?” Quinn asked.
“Oh, that’s the lady from SNAP.  That’s what they call Food Stamps these days.   They say that new name makes us feel less ‘stigmatized.’”
“Should you go to the office and apply?” the woman went on.  “You know if I was eligible myself, I’d be running there to sign up.”
The old timer ignored the woman.  “Why are you looking for this Behan anyway?” he asked.  “You said just now he was a friend of yours.  Is that the truth?  Or does he maybe owe you some money?”
Quinn shook his head.  “No, it’s nothing like that,” he said.  “Behan’s dead.  He was shot to death downtown over a week ago now.  I was out in California when word reached me.  I thought I’d come to the city and see what I could find out.”
“That’s a good way to get yourself killed too if you don’t mind my saying so.  Whoever shot your friend isn’t going to appreciate your meddling in his affairs.”
“That’s his problem, not mine.”  Quinn didn’t look up as he drank more of his coffee.  “If the fucker wants to come after me, that’ll just save me the trouble of finding him.”
The old man gave Quinn a closer look.  “It’s a hell of long way from California to New York.  You and Behan must have been pretty good friends for you to make such a trip.  After all, there’s not much you can do for him now.”
“No, I realize that well enough.”  Quinn put the coffee cup down.  “We were close once but, like I said, we lost touch.  I feel bad about that.  Maybe if I’d kept tighter watch on him, this wouldn’t have happened and he’d still be alive.”
The other reached out his hand.  “It don’t do no good to think that way.  None at all.  When my old lady died, I thought too about all the things I could’ve done to make her life easier.  Stayed awake nights going over it in my mind.  But it’s too late once someone’s passed.  That’s all there is to it.  I finally decided it was better to put away such thoughts and be content instead with what memories I had.”
“That same idea occurred to me too.”  Quinn took a spoonful of oatmeal.  “I’m not saying you’re wrong.  Maybe eventually I’ll feel the same way you do.  But right now this is something I’ve got to do.  I owe it to Behan.”
“I hear you.  A man always has to do what he thinks is right.  Otherwise he can’t go on living with himself.”
Quinn took another bite of oatmeal and grimaced.  He put his spoon down and stood up.  “I guess I’m not as hungry as I thought I was.”
“No surprise there.  Don’t worry though.  If you come here often enough, you’ll get used to the food.  We all do.”
“It’s not that.  Just that I’ve always hated the taste of oatmeal.”
“Never cared much for it neither.  But the way my ulcer’s been acting up, it’s about all I can keep down these days.”
“My name’s Quinn, by the way.”  He offered his hand.
The other rose halfway from his seat to shake it.  “Cal.”
Quinn zipped up his jacket and made ready to leave.  “Good talking to you, Cal, and good luck to you.”
“I’d wish you luck too,” said Cal, “but I don’t think you’re going to need much of it.  You’re tough as nails.  I can tell.  Men like you, you make your own luck.”
Quinn gave a derisive laugh.  “That’s funny, Cal.  Maybe you see something I don’t.”
“Maybe I do at that.”

Outside, the November air had turned even colder.  The gusting wind carried a foretaste of the bitter winter ahead.  Fashionably dressed young mothers, oblivious to all about them, chattered on their smartphones as they pushed baby strollers along Columbus Avenue.  Or else they lingered over cappuccino and pastries at the Milk Bar.   A waitress drew cookies on the sidewalk with a piece of blue chalk.  No one took any notice of Quinn.  He might as well have been invisible.