Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Dark Veil: Chapter Seven

The East 60’s off Fifth Avenue comprised one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Manhattan.  Pristinely kept townhouses watched over by private security firms housed the city’s social and financial elite.  The tree lined streets were among the cleanest and quietest in the city.  Garbage never piled up at the curb as it did in less fortunate areas, and there wasn’t a trace of litter or dog droppings to be seen.  Since most of the homes were one-family residences, there weren’t as many people crowding the sidewalks.
Quinn didn’t waste time sightseeing.  He went straight to the address he’d been given by Shaley, mounted the restored townhouse stoop and rang the front doorbell.  As he waited, he watched the cars and vans passing by and tried to determine which, if any, belonged to undercover agents who might be keeping the house under surveillance.
After more than a minute had passed, the door was finally opened by a slightly built young man.  He was dressed in finely tailored clothes, but the designer silk pullover he had on wasn’t sufficient to distract Quinn’s attention from the shifty eyes and crooked smile.  If he’d been wearing a ball and chain, it couldn’t have been any more obvious he was an ex-con.
Quinn spoke first.  “I’m here to see Mr. Lachner.”  He was careful to keep his tone polite.  “I called earlier and he said to drop by at one.”
The young man sneered openly.  “Yeah, but it ain’t one o’clock yet.”
Quinn glanced at his watch.  It showed three minutes to one.  “I’m sorry if I’m early.  I wanted to make sure I was on time.”
The other pulled the door back reluctantly and motioned for Quinn to enter.  “I guess you might as well come in.”
“Thanks.  I appreciate the courtesy.”
The young man looked up.  He spent a few seconds trying to decide if he were being made fun of, then nodded indifferently.  “I’ll tell Mr. Lachner you’re here.”  He turned his back and walked away.  Quinn was left standing by the door.
Another five minutes passed before Quinn heard footsteps approaching.  An elderly man in a charcoal Brooks Brothers suit appeared and offered his hand in greeting.  “Quinn, Quinn,” he said, “how are you?  You’re all grown up now.  The last time I saw you, you were still a child living with your parents in the Bronx.  How many years has that been?”
“Too many,” responded Quinn taking the hand offered him in a firm grasp.  “It’s my fault.  I should have kept in better touch.”
“Let’s sit down and make ourselves comfortable,” Lachner suggested.  He appeared to have trouble standing on his own.  His legs were trembling.
“Would you like to lean on my arm?” Quinn asked.
“No, I need the exercise.  I use a walker whenever I go outdoors, but I try to manage on my own here.”
Quinn followed Lachner into a living room so immaculate it appeared never to have been used but was instead waiting to be photographed for a Sunday Times supplement.  The setting was clearly the work of a high end designer, one who accepted as clients only those to whom cost was no object.  Much of the furniture consisted of high end antiques that were usually available only at auction.
“Is that an original Degas?”  Quinn asked.  He nodded to a picture of ballet dancers that hung on one wall.
“Yes, it’s a monotype, a form the artist experimented with late in his career.  He reworked it with pastel once he had finished making the print.  It’s one of a kind.”
“I’m impressed,” said Quinn as he bent forward for a closer look.  “I never thought I’d see something like this outside a museum.”
Lachner sighed.  “I did quite well during my professional career and had plans for all the things I’d enjoy once I’d retired.  Now that the time has come, though, I find my health too precarious to exert myself.   Collecting is one of the few passions left open to me.”
“I’m sorry if you haven’t been well.”
“There’s nothing that can be done about it, so there’s not very much use in my complaining.”  Lachner turned toward his visitor.  “It’s really poor Behan who deserves our sympathy.  Such a terrible thing to have happened to him.  I’m so sorry for your loss.”
“Thank you.  I’m sure he’d be grateful to hear you say that.  His friendship with you and Shaley was one of the most important things in his life.  In fact, I had a great time recently reminiscing with Shaley about the old days when you three were so inseparable.”
“We never had any idea then how it would all end.”  Lachner’s voice choked as he said the words.  “Do the police have any idea yet who killed your father?”
“No, at least not from what they told me.  I’m trying to find out as much as I can on my own.  That’s one reason I came by today.  I was hoping you might recall something from your conversations with my father that would point me in the right direction.”
“I wish I could.  Honestly I do.  But I rarely saw Behan these past few years.”
“Don’t worry.  I understand what you’re saying.  Shaley told me pretty much the same thing.”  Quinn took another look about the extravagantly decorated room.  “You’re both in much different places than the one where Behan found himself in his last years.”
“Your father was a dreamer.  That was always Behan’s problem, if you don’t mind my saying so.  He never took life as seriously as he should have.  While Shaley and I were busily pursuing our careers, Behan only talked about creating art.  He was totally impractical.  We both tried to give him well meaning advice from time to time, but he never listened to a word either of us said.  Instead, he always insisted on going his own way.”  Lachner glanced at Quinn.  “I hope you don’t mind my talking about your father this way, especially now that he’s no longer with us.  I don’t intend any disrespect toward the dead.”
Quinn took a seat on a carved walnut settee.  “No, no offense taken.  You’re absolutely right in what you say.  My father never gave as much thought to preparing for the future as he should have.  He was content to live from day to day.  Then, when he got old, he had nothing put aside to keep him going.  He was close to destitute at the end.”
“Not the best way to finish one’s life,” Lachner remarked.  There was a touch of reproof in his voice as he said it, that and the proud consciousness that he, at least, had acted quite differently.
“Yes, Behan should have listened more closely to his friends.  When I saw Shaley’s photo studio, it was obvious that he’d done extremely well for himself.  You even more so.”
“I was very fortunate to have been so successful in business,” Lachner agreed.  “But it wasn’t just luck.  It took a great deal of effort to achieve what I did.  I rose from a junior accounting position to become head of a large firm.  I had to work night and day to get there.”
“It must have been difficult to have put all that behind you when you retired no matter how stressful it may have been at the time.  I’m sure you miss the excitement.”  Quinn gave the other an encouraging smile.  “Do you still at least follow the market?  I can’t believe you’re not tempted to make an investment here and there when you see a good deal come along.  And who’d recognize a worthwhile opportunity better than you?  It would certainly be a shame to let all those years of experience go to waste.”
Lachner was clearly flattered by the compliment.  “It’s true, of course, that I’d have loved to have remained involved in business and to have kept going.  When I told my partners I was leaving, they begged me to stay on in an advisory capacity.  But it wasn’t meant to be.”  Lachner put his fingers to his chest.  “I’ve had two major heart attacks in the past five years.  The doctors warn me that the next one will be fatal.   I manage these days as best I can.”  He pointed to the artworks that lined the walls.  “I try to find useful ways to pass the time so that I don’t grow too morbid thinking of what awaits me.”
“If that’s the case, then it’s a shame my father never bothered to visit, especially after you and he had been so close while growing up.  I can’t believe he was so forgetful of an old friend.  There was probably a lot he could have done to have made things easier for you.”
“Oh, Behan did stop by every now and then as a matter of fact.  He was a good man all right.  Never completely lost touch.”  Lachner ran his hand absent mindedly through the last few wisps of grey hair that remained on his scalp.  “There wasn’t anything at all I needed, however, so I could only thank him for having been so considerate.”
“Really?  Nothing?”  Quinn looked deliberately at the old man’s hand where it hung limply by his side.  It was covered with a tracery of blue veins and shook slightly even as he watched.  “From what you’ve been telling me, it seems you could have used a little assistance.  It can’t be good to be all alone in your condition.”
“No, you misunderstand.”  Lachner looked past Quinn, who was seated opposite him, into the room beyond.  “I have all the help I need right here.”
Quinn turned his head and saw the young man who had opened the front door for him standing silently in the shadows.  “You move awfully quietly, don’t you?” observed Quinn.  “I had no idea you were there behind me all this time.”
The other didn’t respond but instead moved forward until he stood beside Lachner’s chair.  He laid a waxen white hand protectively on the older man’s shoulder.  As he did so, he fixed his pale grey eyes on Quinn while all the while allowing the same twisted smile to play about his lips.
“Chester takes care of everything quite thoroughly,” said Lachner.  He reached over and patted his assistant’s hand.  “He’s amazingly efficient.  With him here, I have all my needs attended to without even having to ask.”
“You’re lucky to have found him.”  Quinn nodded pleasantly in the young man’s direction.  “It must be wonderful to have someone nearby who’s so efficient.  Are you a licensed nurse, Chester?  Where did you get your training?  In which prison ward?”
The smile froze on Lachner’s face froze as Chester stiffened beside him.  “I hope you’ll excuse me.  It’s been wonderful seeing you again and talking about your father.  But I’m afraid that now I really need to get some rest.  I mustn’t overdo things, you know.”
“No, of course not.”  Quinn reached for the jacket he had placed on the Louis XIV chair beside him.  “It’s been great seeing you too.  We’ll have to do this more often.”
“If only my health permitted.”  Lachner made a great effort to rise on his own.  Chester quickly bent down to help him from his chair.
“Don’t bother showing me out,” said Quinn.  “I can find my own way.”
“Chester will escort you to the door.”  Without taking the time to extend his hand, Lachner turned his back on Quinn and slowly left the room.  His steps were hesitant and he seemed even less sure on his feet than he had earlier.
As Quinn stood up, Chester moved to take a place directly beside him.  He shadowed Quinn closely as he walked back the way he had come.  There was a scowl on Chester’s face and it was apparent there was something he badly wanted to say.
When they reached the front door, Chester stepped forward to block Quinn’s way.  He moved to take hold of Quinn’s arm.
“I wouldn’t do that,” Quinn warned.
Chester slowly pulled his hand back.  He was still trying to play the part of the loyal assistant.  “You saw Mr. Lachner’s not in very good health.  I think it might be better if you didn’t come around bothering him again.”
“I can see you’re genuinely concerned for him.”  Quinn smiled.  He prodded the other’s chest with his finger.  “After all, you don’t want to lose your meal ticket, do you?  I don’t blame you.  It’s got to be a hell of a lot softer here than in prison.  Where did you do your time anyway?”
Chester started forward.  He put his hand to his pocket.
Quinn continued to smile.  “Whatever you’ve got there, I’d think twice before pulling it.  You don’t want to do anything to ruin the sweet setup you’ve got here.”
Chester’s hand returned to his side as he took a single step back.  He never took his eyes from Quinn’s face.  “I’ll be seeing you around,” he said.  “Sometime soon, I hope.”

“I’m looking forward to it,” answered Quinn.  “I really mean that.”

Monday, February 26, 2018

Low Key Lighting


I rather liked this portrait I printed of model Stella The manner in which the face recedes into the shadows creates a sense of mystery as the model's features are partially obscured. I was attempting to suggest the model's beauty rather than clearly delineate it.

But is this a "low key portrait" or an example of "low key lighting"? There is a difference between the two that is sometimes confusing. The Wikipedia entry on "low key lighting" is so short that it can be quoted in its entirety:
"Low-key lighting is a style of lighting for photography, film or television. It is a necessary element in creating a chiaroscuro effect. Traditional photographic lighting, three point lighting uses a key light, a fill light, and a back light for illumination. Low-key lighting often uses only one key light, optionally controlled with a fill light or a simple reflector. 
"Low key light accentuates the contours of an object by throwing areas into shade while a fill light or reflector may illuminate the shadow areas to control contrast. The relative strength of key-to-fill, known as the lighting ratio, can be measured using a light meter. Low key lighting has a higher lighting ratio, e.g. 8:1, than high-key lighting, which can approach 1:1. 
"The term 'low key' is used in cinematography to refer to any scene with a high lighting ratio, especially if there is a predominance of shadowy areas. It tends to heighten the sense of alienation felt by the viewer, hence is commonly used in film noir and horror genres."
Fair enough, but Wikipedia then draws a distinction in its definition of "low key":
"Low key as a term used in describing paintings or photographs is related to but not the same as low-key lighting in cinema or photography. 
"A painting or image is low key if its dominant values are dark."
The source of the confusion may lie in the fact that the term "low key" antedates the invention of photography and cinema and the use of artificial lighting. There is an article in Photography - Stack Exchange that thoroughly explores the history of the terminology and makes for interesting reading.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Record Temperatures in New York City


On Wednesday the temperature in New York City got up to 78F and shattered the old record of 68F set in 1930.  I spent the day taking photos in Central Park under blue skies with plenty of sunshine.  I photographed these dancers having fun at the Naumburg Bandshell.


Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Dark Veil: Chapter Six

“Why didn’t you tell me about this before?” Sloane exploded.
Quinn held his temper in check.  “I’m telling you about it now, aren’t I?”
The detective banged his fist down on the top of his desk, almost knocking over a full cup of coffee.  “Let me get this straight.  You’re walking along minding your own business one fine evening in midtown when out of nowhere some unknown person tries to dump a pile of bricks on top of your head.  Instead of calling 911 like any sane person would do, you decide to keep it to yourself and go back to your hotel for a good night’s sleep.  As a result, the police aren’t able to investigate what you claim was attempted murder.  All we’ve got to go on is the half assed story you’re handing me right now.  Is that about it?”
“You’re getting all worked up over nothing,” Quinn objected.  “I’m used to looking out for myself; I don’t go crying to the police every time I have a problem, not when there’s a chance I can handle it myself.  And besides, how did I know how seriously you were going to take my story?  I didn’t feel like coming in here and getting laughed at.”
“Do I look to you like I’m laughing?  When are you going to realize we’re on the same side?  I’m the guy who’s trying to find out who murdered your old man, and you’re out there doing everything you can think of to obstruct my investigation.  I should bust you right now for pulling this shit on me.”
 “Don’t threaten me.”  Quinn’s face flushed.  “The reason I came here in the first place was because I wanted to do the right thing.  And as far as finding my father’s murderer, I’m sure as hell not doing anything to stop you from looking.  That’s total bullshit.  If there’s anything I can do to help with your investigation, I’m happy to oblige.”
“Well, thank you so much for that.”  The sarcasm fairly dripped from Sloane’s mouth as he spoke.  “You’ve been such a big help as it is.  I’m sure that pile of bricks is still sitting on the sidewalk right where you left it.”
“Ok, so maybe someone’s cleaned up the mess in the meantime.  What’s the big deal?  It’s not like you were going to dust the bricks for fingerprints or inspect them for DNA.  I already told you they didn’t have any mortar on them.  Can’t you see that that’s what’s important?  It shows that what happened was deliberate.  Someone was trying to kill me.”
Sloane threw up his hands in disgust.  “Why do I even bother?” he asked.  “All right.  I’ll get in touch with Midtown South and ask them to send someone over there to see what they can find out.  But at this point in time, there’s not going to be anything left worth a damn for them to look at.  I can tell you that right now.”
Quinn shrugged.  “What were they going to see in the first place?  The guy who dropped those bricks was gone before they hit the ground.”
“Sure, sure.  Thanks for taking the time to explain that to me.  You’re being very considerate.  I don’t know how we police managed before you got to town.”
“Don’t mention it.”  Quinn turned his head so that the detective wouldn’t be able to see the smirk playing at the corner of his mouth.
“All right, smartass.  If you’re done with the helpful hints, you can get up and leave.  I don’t want to keep you from your busy schedule.”
Quinn cleared his throat.  “There is one other thing.”
Sloane took a gulp of coffee.  “And what might that be?”
“When I was going through Behan’s things, I found a whole boxful of R-rated Japanese DVD’s.  They were sex films but with the actors’ genitals and pubic hair covered digitally so there wouldn’t be any trouble getting them past the censors.”
“Yeah, yeah,” said Sloane.  “I know all about it.  I went through those DVD’s when we first searched the apartment.  There was no illegal content in any of those films.  Strictly speaking, they weren’t even porn.  If your old man got his rocks off looking at girly movies, that’s got nothing to do with me.”
Quinn leaned forward in his chair.  “Did you happen to notice all the films were by the same director?”
“Who the fuck cares?”  Sloane seemed ready to blow up again.  “I’m trying to find a killer.  I’ve got no time to worry about a pile of dirty movies.”
“I think it’s significant,” Quinn persisted.  “I did some checking on this director.  His name’s Yukio Ito.  He’s an old man now but still famous – or maybe ‘infamous’ would be a better word – in his own country.  He’s been making cult films there for decades, and a lot of them are now considered collector’s items.  These aren’t some amateur flicks shot on a handheld camera.  They’re big budget and have high production values.”
“I don’t believe this.”  Sloane put his hand to his head.  “Stop jerking me around and get to the point.  If you have one, that is.  Or are you just making recommendations what the wife and I should order from Netflix the next time we want to watch a movie together?”
“About six months ago, Ito moved out of Tokyo where he’d lived and worked all his life to set up shop here in the city.  He rented out an entire floor on Eighth Avenue.  And then the next thing you know, Behan’s dead.  There’s got to be a connection.  Even you should be able to see that much.”
“Are you completely nuts?” Sloane asked.  “What the hell kind of connection could there be between a perverted Japanese film director and a down-and-out ex-con like your father?  You’re just clutching at straws.”
“If the two had nothing to do with one another, then why did Behan have such a huge collection of Ito’s films in his apartment?  And no one else’s but Ito’s?”
“How the hell should I know?”  Sloane didn’t attempt to hide his impatience.  “For that matter, I’ve got a whole box of Frank Sinatra recordings at home.  You know why I have them?  Because I like the way the guy sings, that’s why.”
“Yeah, I’m not surprised.  You definitely don’t look the type who listens to hip hop.”
Sloane started to rise from his seat.  “That’s it.  I’m done.  I don’t have to sit here and listen to this shit.”
“Hey, I was just joking.”  Quinn held up his hands.  “Don’t get all bent out of shape.  All I want you to do is look into this guy Ito and see what the deal is.  That’s it.  I’ve done as much research as I can on the web.  I need you to get the facts and piece things together.  That shouldn’t take very long at all, not with the resources you have.”
“This may come as a shock to you, but it’s not the NYPD’s job to spy on legitimate businessmen and drive them out of the city.  These guys pay taxes.  The mayor’s office goes out of its way to promote the city as being business friendly so these guys will come here.”
Quinn shrugged his shoulders.  “I’m not asking you to stage a raid.  All that’s needed here is some basic detective work.  Someone must know something.”
“I think it’s a complete waste of time.”  Sloane ran a hand over his grizzled scalp.  “If this guy Ito is still making his dirty pictures, though, some of my associates in Vice will have already checked him out.  I can ask them what kind of operation he’s running.  At least it will give me something to write in my report.”
“I appreciate it.  I really do.”  The gratitude in Quinn’s voice was genuine.
Sloane looked at Quinn thoughtfully.  “You’re not letting go of this, are you?  Is catching Behan’s killer really that important to you?  You and he hadn’t been close for years, and now all of a sudden you’re on a crusade.”
A shadow crossed Quinn’s face.  “Did I ever tell you about the last time I saw my father?  I don’t think I did.”
“No, but you can certainly tell me now.  I need to know as much as I can about the guy.  I’m still trying to figure out what made him tick.”
“After Behan went into prison, I completely lost touch and didn’t see him for years,” Quinn started in.  “I was already living out in California by then and had just come back to the city for a quick visit the night I ran into him at the Union Square subway station of all places.”  Quinn shot Sloane an ironic smile.  “It’s funny, but I might not even have gotten involved if the police hadn’t been giving him a hard time.”
“Oh, so Behan did get in trouble with the law again after all.”  Sloane sighed wearily.  “Ok.  Let’s have it.”
“I’ll tell you the story, but you’re probably not going to like it.  No, I take it back.  You’re definitely not going to like it.”
“Let me worry about what I like and what I don’t.”
“When I saw Behan that night, he was on the point of being busted for no good reason at all by a couple of transit cops who should’ve known better.”
“Yeah, sure,” said Sloane.  “I should have guessed.  It was the cops who were to blame.  They always are.  What else is new?”
“You listen, and you tell me.”
“I’m listening all right.  Cut the bullshit and get on with it."
“It was in the middle of winter that it happened.  I remember it was a really bitter night, one of those arctic cold waves we get every January or February when the temperature goes down into the single digits.  I’d been at the station already for close to twenty minutes waiting for an uptown 4 train.  All the while I was standing there, I was clapping my hands together and hopping from one foot to another, doing anything I could think of to keep warm.  But nothing helped – it was just too damned cold down there. 
“Rough as it was for me, it was the homeless people who sat shivering on the platform’s wooden benches who had it the worst.  They didn’t have any heavy winter clothes to wear like I did, and I kept imagining how bad they must be hurting from the cold.  They couldn’t even lie down because the cops would have rousted them in a minute if they’d tried to catch any shuteye.  Maybe it was just as well – the poor bastards would have frozen to death for sure and never woken up.
“So while I’m watching, I see this photographer moving among them.  He was an older guy, bent over and grey haired.  He didn’t look much better off than the down-and-outers he was shooting.  It was only the Leica he was carrying that set him apart.  He looked sort of familiar to me, but – believe it or not – at first I couldn’t place him.
“Some of those huddled figures he photographed were so still and rigid they might already have been dead.  Inside their newspaper wrappings, they didn’t look much more than bundles of twigs.   Their matchstick arms and legs were thin as wire where they stuck out from underneath yesterday‘s headlines. 
“The photographer was taking his time and being careful as he moved around them.  I didn’t blame him. People who have nothing to lose are always the most dangerous.  And these outcasts – it was hard to tell men from women – they’d all long ago hit bottom.
“I moved closer on the platform to where the photographer was shooting.  I was curious all right, but mostly I was just killing time till my train pulled in.
“One old man was still awake.  He sat whimpering on a wheelchair that had been rigged to display the stumps where his legs both ended at the knee.  I guess showing them off like that helped him with his panhandling routine.
“‘Can I take your picture?’ the photographer asked.  He was very polite.
“The old man nodded and then kept nodding while the camera snapped away.  Spit dribbled from the corners of his mouth. 
“‘What are you doing here tonight?’ the photographer asked.  There was a real concern in his voice.  That surprised me.  He wasn’t just making conversation.
“‘Waiting for the train,’ the old man replied.
“‘Which train?’
“‘The one as never stopped here before.’
“‘I hear you there, old timer,’ the photographer said, even though he wasn’t that much younger himself.  ‘But isn’t there any shelter where you can go to get out of this cold?’
“‘I used to stay at Peter’s Place, downstairs on West 23rd.  I could stay there all night if I wanted to.  But the city shut it down.  It was the only drop-in center they had for us old people, and now it’s gone and we’ve got to shift for ourselves again.’
“The shabby photographer handed the old man a five dollar bill.  Watching him, I had a feeling that even that little bit was more than he could afford.  As he held the bill out, I suddenly recognized him and realized it was Behan who was taking the photographs.
“The next thing I knew, two uniforms were walking directly toward my father.  They both had their hands on their holsters.  That scared me, though I’d seen the same thing often enough while moving around the city. 
“The two cops had their eye on Behan’s Leica, a film camera, as much as they did on him.  They had probably been watching for a while through their surveillance cameras.  I remembered then that the transit police had a substation one level up. 
“I looked up to see where the cameras and monitors had been placed.  Those things always creep me out; they remind me too much of the way Big Brother kept tabs in 1984.  Wherever I go, I can never forget that those videocams are all around me – in storefronts and in building lobbies – with their lenses recording my every move.  Their motors keep droning on in the back of my mind when I try to go to sleep at night.   
“Behan turned and saw the two cops coming at him.  He didn’t try to run.
“‘Put the camera away,’ the first cop said in a really nasty voice.  He was nothing but a middle aged uniform with an attitude.  His whole expression said he was just waiting for some asshole to be dumb enough to talk back to him.”  Quinn laughed.  “Come to think of it, Sloane, he could have been your twin brother.
“‘Yeah, but first delete the pics you already took,’ said the other cop.  This guy was younger and looked like he’d just graduated from John Jay the week before.  He was probably wishing he was home in bed with his wife in Elmhurst instead of freezing his nuts off on an icy subway platform.
“‘I can’t delete shit.  I’m shooting film, not digital,’ said Behan right back to him.
“For a second, that stopped the second cop in his tracks.  He was too young to remember the days when people actually took photos that didn’t magically appear on an LCD screen on the camera’s back.  But being confused only made him that much angrier.  ‘Either delete the pictures, or we take you in.’
 “‘Come on, officer, please,’ pleaded Behan.  He was doing his best to be conciliatory.  ‘Give me a break.  It’s two in the morning already, and I’m not in anyone’s way here.’   I saw him looking at the cop's badge number.  Maybe he was trying to memorize it in case any trouble started and he got the shit beaten out of him.  Not that it would have done him much good to have filed a complaint.
“‘Put the camera away,’ the first cop said again as though he hadn’t heard a word Behan or the other uniform had said.  He stifled a yawn.  ‘You know damn well you can’t take pictures of the trains or tracks.’
“Behan must’ve known he couldn’t win with these two, but he stood his ground anyway.  I admired him for that.  ‘The law says I can take photographs wherever I want in any part of the system where public access isn’t denied.  Do I look like a terrorist to you, man?’
“‘You know who a terrorist looks like?’  The cop paused for effect.  ‘Anybody, that’s who.  Maybe we should just take you upstairs right now and write you out a ticket.’
“I didn’t believe for a second that a ticket would be the worst that would happen upstairs, and I was sure Behan realized it too.  If the cops decided to bring him in, they weren’t going to stop to have a debate with him first.  They’d cuff him, then drag him if they had to.  Behan would probably end up spending the rest of the night in a holding cell on Rikers with a bunch of junkies beating the shit out of him.
“I knew what was going to happen if I got involved.  When the cops are questioning somebody or getting ready to make an arrest, they never put up with any meddling from passers-by.  If a bystander is stupid enough to intervene, the cops will just bust him too and take him along with whatever poor slob they’ve already nailed.  And God help anyone who tries to take a photo of them doing it.
“I couldn’t keep out of it, though, not only because Behan was family but also because I knew he was right.  ‘Hey, officers,’ I said, walking over and all the while making sure my hands were in plain sight.  ‘Didn’t you guys ever hear of Operations Order #14?’
“They’d heard of it all right.  I could see that right away from the pissed off look they both gave me.
“‘The order is dated April 3, 2009,’ I went on, ‘and it says photography in public places has nothing to do with terrorism.  It also says the police can’t direct anyone to delete or destroy photos.’  I pulled a tattered printout of the order from my back pocket.   Like most other shooters in the city, I always kept a copy on me in case I got hassled when I had my camera out.  In a jam it might help that I at least knew my rights.
“Showing the order to the older cop was like waving a red flag in front of a bull, and it got just about the same reaction.  The cop moved in front of me and literally lifted me off my feet.   I heard my head crack as the cop banged the back of it against one of the station’s steel support stanchions.  For a second, I saw double; then I tasted blood in my mouth. 
“‘Ok, wiseguy,’ the cop said.  “You got anything else funny you’d like to say before we run you in?’
“I bit back the nasty crack I wanted to make; I wasn’t about to give the guy any excuse to bust me.   ‘You know what false arrest is as well as I do, and you know the suit my lawyer is going to bring against the city tomorrow,’ I was trying to sound braver than I felt.
“The cop looked at me like I’d just poisoned his grandmother.  I saw him staring at me hard enough to remember my face in case we ever met again.  Then he stalked off with his partner without another word or a backward glance.
“‘Good night, officer,’ I called after him.  ‘No hard feelings, I hope.’  It was stupid of me to give them lip, I know, but I couldn’t resist saying that.
“Behan put the Leica back in his camera bag and turned toward me.  ‘Good to see you again, Quinn.  It’s been a while.  I appreciate what you did there.  You’ve still got some of my blood in you if you’ve got balls enough to stand up to the man that way.’
“‘I never did have much in the way of brains,’ I told him.  ‘I guess I inherited that from you too.’  My head ached.  I was too pissed with Behan for getting me involved to want to talk with him.  I only hoped my train would get there before the cops came back again. 
“Behan must have sensed the mood I was in.  He nodded, picked up his bag and started to walk off.  ‘Thanks again,’ he said over his shoulder, not a word more than that.
“I couldn’t think of anything kind to say to say to the old guy, so I just kept quiet.  I felt the cold rip my lungs, and I pulled my scarf tighter around my neck.”
“Not much of a reunion,” commented Sloane, “but I think I’m starting to get it now.  You two were both loners in your own way, each of you just half a step away from breaking the law.  What a pair you must have made that night.  I wish I’d been there to see.”
“We had things in common, I guess.  More than just that we were family.   Maybe that’s the real reason I’m so anxious to find whoever it was that murdered him.”
“It’s good you have so much feeling for your father.  Does you credit.”  Sloane gave Quinn a hard look.  “But you’ve got to understand you’re a civilian and have no place in this investigation.  If you want to know what’s going on, you stop by here at my office and I’ll be happy to update you on any new developments.”
“You still want to keep an eye on me, don’t you?  You’re just like those cops in the subway station.  Ready to come down on me the first chance you get.”
“You always this paranoid?” Sloane asked.  “Mostly I’m afraid you’re going to keep playing cop and go on looking for Behan’s killer.  You’re only going to get yourself killed.”
“If you catch the guy yourself, then I won’t have to do anything, will I?”
“We’ll get him,” said the detective with grim certainty.  “We always do in the end.”
“Maybe you will, and maybe you won’t.  In the meantime, I plan to stay in touch with my father’s old friends.  No telling where that could lead.  One of those guys might eventually cough up some small fact that turns out to be helpful.”
Sloane was instantly suspicious.  “Exactly which of your father’s friends are you talking about?”  He tossed the empty coffee cup in the wastebasket.
“I already told you about the one named Shaley, the photographer here in Manhattan. I paid him a visit the other day.  He’s doing extraordinarily well from the look of his studio.  He wasn’t much help the first time around, couldn’t think of anything that might be useful; but I have a feeling that sooner or later he’ll remember something if I keep at him.”
“Yeah, I gave Shaley a call myself.”  Sloane wasn’t impressed.  “He didn’t know jack shit.  Told me he hadn’t had much at all to do with Behan the last few years.  And I believed him.  After all, there’s no reason to expect a guy who’s got that much going for him to have much time to spare for an unemployed loser like your father.  I don’t care how good friends they were when they were kids.  They lived in different worlds for years.”
“Behan still saw the guy every now and then,” Quinn argued.  “There’s always a chance Shaley will come through if I jog his memory hard enough.”
“Good luck with that.”  Sloane laughed mirthlessly.  “If that’s the best you’ve got, you might as well head home to California right now.”
Quinn let the remark pass.  “I also plan to talk with Behan’s other friend from the old days.  His name is Lachner.  Shaley gave me his address on the East Side.  I haven’t seen Lachner since I was a kid, but that’s no reason I shouldn’t pay a call on him.”
“You stay away from that guy.”  Sloane’s tone had grown suddenly imperious.  “I don’t want you going anywhere near him.”
“Why the hell shouldn’t I?”  Quinn wasn’t about to be told what to do.  He shook his fist in Sloane’s face.  “Who are you to tell me who I can talk to and who I can’t?  I think it’s time you lay off and start minding your own damn business.”
“This is my business, asshole.”  The detective leaned forward until his face was within an inch of Quinn’s.  “The Feds have had Lachner under surveillance since long before your father was killed.  They suspect he may be involved in money laundering for some very heavy hitters – among others, Chinese officials looking to hide their share of government graft and Russian oligarchs trying to keep what they’ve got from falling into Putin’s hands.  They were all clients of the auditing firm where Lachner was managing partner.  If anyone could’ve covered up for those hoods, he was the one.  But this is just between us.  The entire investigation is confidential.  I only found out about it myself when Lachner’s name turned up in your father’s address book.  I was warned by the brass to stay away from him.”
“You don’t think Behan might have been involved in Lachner’s operation, do you?”
Sloane snorted in disgust.  “This is high finance we’re talking about.  There’s tens of millions involved in these shady deals.  Lachner may have retired from his firm, but he’s still a player; he’s one of the few who are sophisticated enough to know where that much money can be hidden away without raising any red flags.  I’m talking cash-only deals to gain controlling interests in legit businesses or to buy prime real estate here in Manhattan.  Behan, on the other hand, would have had trouble adding up his grocery receipt.”
“It still wouldn’t hurt to talk to the guy,” Quinn argued.
“Like I already said, you stay the fuck away from the man.  I don’t want you messing up an ongoing investigation where Treasury agents have already spent thousands of hours going through God knows how many bank records and asset statements.  There’s a joint task force being put together even as we speak.  FinCEN and IRS agents met with the Commissioner last week.  He promised them the Department’s full cooperation.  The last thing they need is some bozo like you walking in and blowing the whole thing sky high.”
“Is that all you care about?  I remember you telling me the first time we met that murder investigations were given the highest priority.  You were just shitting me, weren’t you?  All anybody thinks about in this city is money.  Life and death don’t matter so long as you know where the cash is stashed.  Isn’t that right?”
“That’s so low, it’s not even worth commenting on,” growled Sloane.  “All I know is I want you out of my office this minute.  And don’t even think about coming back until you’ve changed your attitude.”
“Fine.  Whatever you say.”  Quinn stood up and moved to the door.  “But I’m not giving up.  If it’s the last thing I do, I’m going to find Behan’s murderer and nail him to a wall.  I swore that much to my father at his funeral.”
Sloane started to say something harsh, then thought better of it and instead walked over to where Quinn still stood by the door.  The detective lowered his voice.  “Listen, guy, I know you think you’re a tough customer, and maybe in your day you were.  But you’ve got to realize you’re not getting any younger.  You’re middle aged now and you can’t stand up to trouble on your own the way you used to.  It’s time to get smart and stay away from the bad guys.  You’ll live longer.”

Quinn looked up.  His mouth was a tight line across his face.  “Thanks for the advice, Detective.  I’ll think about it.”

Monday, February 19, 2018

Adolf de Meyer's Pictorialist Photography

I recently viewed at the Met Museum an exhibit of photographs by Adolf de Meyer appropriately entitled Quicksilver Brilliance.  The small Gilman Paper gallery in which the show was set was so sparsely attended that it was difficult to believe I was only steps from the crush of holiday visitors who'd come to view the museum's Rodin exhibit in the much larger space directly outside it.

Though largely forgotten now, de Meyer secured his place in photographic history by becoming one of the world's first editorial photographers.  From 1913 to 1921 he was both Vogue's and Vanity Fair's principal photographer at a moment when technical advances in the halftone process allowed magazines for the first time to illustrate their covers and pages with actual photographs rather than with illustrations based upon them.  This in turn created a demand for skilled photographers whose work would now be viewed directly by the public without the assistance of an intermediary.  Largely by accident, de Meyer found himself in the right place at the right time.

De Meyer lived a flamboyant lifestyle in the upper echelons of early twentieth century high society.  Whether or not he was actually a baron, as he chose to style himself, he moved easily in aristocratic circles.  His enrtee to this privileged group was greatly facilitated by his marriage of convenience (de Meyer was gay) in 1899 to Olga Caracciolo, an Italian noblewoman rumored to be the illegitimate daughter of Edward VII.  With Olga at his side, de Meyer gained first hand knowledge of the sophisiticated lifestyles of the social elite as well as the couture in which they attired themselves.  This was to be invaluable to him at Vogue and later, in Paris, at Harper's Bazaar.

No matter how fortuitous the circumstances that led to his success, de Meyer was a highly accomplished photographer who well deserved the positions he held.  He had already become a member of the Royal Photographic Society in 1893 and from 1903 to 1907 had his work published prominently in Alfred Stieglitz's Camera Work.  The association with Stieglitz (whose own Spring Showers was on view at the exhibit) was particularly significant because it reinforced the pictorialist style of de Meyer's work at a time when the movement had reached its zenith during the Photo Secession.  Pictorialism's soft focus techniques proved a perfect match for the fashion work on which the photographer was soon to embark.

If there are not more original prints at the current exhibit, it's because most of de Meyer's work was unfortunately destroyed during World War II.  Enough remains, however, to attest to his skill as a darkroom technician.  That displayed here is drawn entirely from the Met's own collection.

Surprisingly, the two finest works at the exhibit, both of them photographed in 1906 and both of them platinum prints, are neither portraits nor fashion work but floral still lifes.  The Shadows on the Wall (Chrysanthemums) and Water Lilies are exquisite works, the latter also shown reproduced as a photogravure in Camera Work.  There is a sensitivity to beauty in them that makes it clear why de Meyer felt so at home in Japan, the source of a number of photographs displayed here including Ueno Tōshō-gūView through the Window of a Garden, and Garden Pool with Waterlilies, all of them photographed while on a visit to that country in 1900.  The last is a carbon print, a notoriously difficult medium with which to work, that creates an inherently sharper print than platinum though it lacks the latter's tonal range.  It attests to de Meyer's superlative ability in printing his images.

The fashion and portraiture work itself seems extremely dated today with the exception of the portrait of Josephine Baker (direct carbon print, c. 1925-1926) in which all the performer's vitality is captured even though she is dressed in a full length gown rather than in her infamous danse sauvage banana outfit.

One item I had never before seen and found fascinating was a 1914 book of dance photographs taken of the original Ballets Russes production of L'Après-midi d'un faune.  The the book consists of fourteen collotypes of which six have been temporarily removed and hung, including the portrait of Nijinsky as the faun.  As a photographer, I wondered what film emulsion de Meyer had used that had allowed him to capture motion in low light without any blurring.  (It's also possible the photographer asked the dancers to freeze a given position for the length of the exposure.)  There were also two platinum prints showing dancers in motion on view that were not part of the book but obviously related to it, at least in theme.  The more interesting was a nude study, the only one ever taken by de Meyer, in which the dancer had donned a grotesque mask.

Once the Photo Secession had ended and Stieglitz had moved on with Paul Strand to straight photography, pictorialism became something of a lost cause.  De Meyer was just one of many talented photographers whose work fell into obscurity as tastes changed.  Perhaps one day the pendulum will swing back again and he will receive the recognition he deserves.

The exhibit continues through March 18, 2018.

Friday, February 16, 2018

On West 84th Street


My neighborhood on Manhattan's Upper West Side has so completely gentrified in the last twenty years that it's no longer possible to find any of the gritty ambience that first drew me here.  I only know of one spot on West 84th that still remains unchanged.  I wanted to take a photo of it for a long while, but it was only when I saw a the individual shown above on its step that it came together for me.

To get the shot, I used a Nikon Df with a 50mm f1.4 lens.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Dark Veil: Chapter Five

Quinn spent the next afternoon downtown attending to routine business errands.  By the time he returned to the apartment hours later, he was exhausted.  His uptown subway ride had come to a screeching halt at the Times Square station where the conductor, without explanation, had brusquely ordered everyone off the train.  As the stranded passengers had stood on the platform waiting for the next local to arrive, a rumor had started among them that someone had jumped onto the tracks at 72nd Street in front of an oncoming express.  The woman standing beside Quinn had claimed the jumper was an old man dying of cancer.  She hadn’t bothered to tell him exactly how she’d come by that information.
On impulse, Quinn had left the station; the tightly packed bodies had already begun to create a palpable sense of claustrophobia.  He’d exited at 40th Street and Seventh Avenue and had then spent several hours wandering the midtown streets as he’d tried to reacquaint himself with the New York he remembered.  He was astonished to see it had almost entirely disappeared.  The area around 42nd had been turned into a pedestrian mall overhung by huge jumbotron video displays.  The porn theaters that had catered to middle aged men in tattered trench coats had long ago been converted to family-friendly venues where the latest Disney productions commanded high ticket prices.  Outside them, under the watchful eyes of the police, costumed cartoon characters posed for photos with the tourists’ children.
Quinn had turned away and headed up Broadway.  But it had been the same everywhere he had looked.  All the familiar spots had been torn down and replaced with high rise office buildings and condos.  The small mom & pop stores had been taken over by large retail chains, and the theaters along the Great White Way now featured only tepid musicals in which special effects took the place of talent.  In front of them, long lines of charter buses disgorged hordes of senior citizens desperately clutching their discount admission vouchers.
In the end, Quinn had covered more than forty blocks by the time he finally arrived at his own front door.  His legs ached and he longed to rest.
There was still work to be done, though, before he could relax.  Exhausted as he was, he went through the entire apartment from top to bottom until he had unearthed every photographic print Behan had left behind.  Even before he’d arrived in New York, this was something Quinn had made up his mind to do.  On the plane from San Francisco, thinking of his father’s death, he had determined to create an archive of Behan’s photography.  Even if no one else ever saw it, Quinn had decided, he owed it as one photographer to another not to let Behan’s life work be lost and forgotten.
Quinn had never expected, though, to discover that the photographs Behan had taken in the last years of his life would differ so radically from those he remembered from the times his father had shown him his portfolio.  The dazed expression on his face when he had finished sorting through them showed how shocked he was to have found what he had.
Quinn’s father had all his life been a street photographer who’d idolized the work of such artists as Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Frank.  Leica in hand, he had tirelessly patrolled the city streets in search of images that would capture the very essence of New York.  He had shot shoppers buying bread at the Vesuvio Bakery on Prince Street or sturgeon at Barney Greengrass on Amsterdam Avenue.  He’d photographed onlookers at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and Christmas shoppers lined up with their children in front of Lord & Taylor’s windows waiting impatiently to view the holiday displays.  The most iconic sights in the city had been scrupulously recorded along with scenes of the homeless panhandling for pennies or scavenging through dumpsters for their evening meal.
The work Quinn had now unearthed was entirely different.  All the photographs were of beautiful nude models posed before seamless backgrounds.  Instead of straightforward images shot on Tri-X film, these deliberately artful works had been photographed in a studio setting using now discontinued infrared films.  These soft focus studies had a hauntingly familiar appearance, and Quinn soon recognized in them the influence of the Pictorialist school that had been in vogue at the turn of the twentieth century.  Though they represented a complete break from Behan’s former style, the prints were masterpieces of darkroom technique and possessed an antique beauty all their own.
All the prints were a standard 8x10 size.  Most were kept in the same boxes in which the enlarging paper used to make them had originally been sold.  As Behan had used up one box of paper in the darkroom, he had recycled the cardboard container and filled it with finished prints.  Then he had meticulously affixed labels to each of the boxes to show the date the photographs had been taken and the prints made.
In some of the photos the models were entirely nude while in others they were at least partially draped.  There was nothing explicit in any of them, though a few might have been considered suggestive.  The infrared film Behan had used had had such a softening effect on its subjects that any objectionable content had been too deeply hidden in the shadows to be noticeable.   It was plain Behan had had no interest in creating adult content.
For the most part, the women seemed not to be professional models but rather a random assortment of attractive women, most of them in their late twenties or early thirties, whom Behan had somehow convinced to undress for the camera.   All appeared comfortable enough in their poses.  None had their arms crossed defensively over their breasts or their legs pressed too tightly together.  Instead, they smiled innocently at the camera as if amused by some joke Behan had just finished telling them.
Quinn noted that Behan seemed not to have photographed most models more than once or twice.   And he had very obviously kept his distance, treating the nude figures only as forms to be lit.  The women were no more than strangers who had wandered in through the door, stayed long enough to have had their pictures taken and then gone their way.
The sole exception was a lovely Latin model.  She appeared taller than the others and carried herself more professionally.  Of them all, she was the only one who might have been listed with a legitimate agency and been able to earn her living as a runway or print model.  Quinn could see that Behan had worked with her on numerous occasions.  Her photos turned up in box after box of prints.  There was even a portrait showing only her face and bare shoulders that Behan had framed and hung on the living room wall. 
Finally, after having searched through all the prints several times, Quinn was almost finished.  Only one large cardboard box high up on a closet shelf remained to be examined.  He went into the kitchen and poured himself a Guinness before opening it.
When Quinn opened the box, he experienced still another shock.  Inside was a huge assortment of DVD’s packed together so closely that they spilled out of the almost bursting container as soon as he had lifted the lid.  That was a puzzle in itself.  To the best of Quinn’s recollection, Behan had never spent much time going to the movies or watching television.  Even more unusual were the types of films contained on the discs.
All of them were Japanese and all were of a certain type of adult softcore known as “pink film.”  Quinn was familiar with the genre.  He’d spent time on assignment in Tokyo and had seen them sold in video stores throughout the city.  Not that he’d ever bothered to watch any of them.  To him they were as lame as the R-rated films that played every night on American cable.  There was nothing more to them than oversized breasts and bare bottoms.
As he looked more closely at the DVD covers, Quinn realized that all the films – and there were a huge number – had been directed by the same individual, one Yukio Ito.  Quinn had never heard the name before; but then again, he told himself, he was no expert on Japanese cinema.  He resolved to do some research when he had more time.
After he’d finished examining the DVD’s and put them back in the box, Quinn went into the bedroom and stretched out on the bed without bothering to take his clothes off.  Scarcely had he put his head down on the pillow than he fell soundly asleep.
He was awakened several hours later by the sound of a key in the lock.  It was night by then and the apartment was completely dark except for the streetlight filtering through the curtained windows.  A figure appeared silhouetted in the bedroom doorway.  Quinn slid off the bed as silently as possible while accustoming his eyes to the darkness.  As a shadowed hand reached for the light switch, he grasped it by the wrist and gave it a hard twist.
A woman’s voice cried out in pain.
“Who the hell are you?” demanded Quinn as he reached past the woman and snapped on the light himself.  “And what are you doing here?”
The overhead light revealed a slender dark haired beauty almost as tall as Quinn himself.  She wore a shimmering long white dress and three-inch stiletto heels.  The apparition regarded Quinn through smoldering black eyes.  She drew her head up proudly.  “My name is Violeta Vargas, and I was a friend of Behan’s,” she proclaimed.  “He gave me permission to stay here whenever I wanted.”   
The woman turned and pointed to the opposite wall where her black & white portrait hung.  It was the same print Quinn had noticed earlier.  Although he had spent all afternoon studying the photographs for which she’d posed, he’d failed to recognize her in person.  Belatedly, he realized she was in fact the model about whom he’d earlier been so curious.
“That’s me,” she said.  “I watched while Behan put it up on the wall.  When he finally had it hung, he climbed down the ladder and told me how honored he was to work with me.”
Quinn released the woman’s hand at once.  “I’m sorry,” he apologized.  “I didn’t mean to frighten you.  If it hadn’t been so dark, I’d have recognized you right away from your photos.  As it was, you really gave me a start.  My name’s Quinn, by the way, and I’m Behan’s son.  I just moved in and had no idea my father had a roommate.  He must have gone through a whole set of changes since the last time I saw him.  I thought I knew him as well as anyone, but I’m beginning to find out the man was full of surprises.”
Violeta smiled.  “Yes, I know who you are.  Behan talked about you often.  But he never told me why you were no longer in New York or where you’d gone.”
“It’s a long story.  My sister had moved to California years ago, and we’d gradually drifted apart.  When I got word she had cancer, I went out there and discovered she was dying.  I stayed to do what I could for her.  She lingered a long while.  It was tough.”
 Violeta gave him a sorrowful glance.  “That’s terrible,” she said.  “But your sister was very lucky, I think, to have had you there beside her.  Death should never be faced alone.”
“No, it shouldn’t,” said Quinn, “but then that’s the way Behan died, isn’t it?”
“Yes, that’s true enough,” Violeta acknowledged. “Anyway, will you be living here from now on?  In that case, I can find somewhere else to go.  I only came by tonight to make myself a meal.  But I’ll leave as soon as I’ve finished.  I have friends who’ll put me up.”
“I don’t understand how you managed to stay here this long.”  Quinn was puzzled. 
“Didn’t the cops give you a hard time for messing up their crime scene?”
“The polícia?”  Violeta gave a derisive chuckle.  “They never saw me, not even once.  I was only here at night, and I made sure to replace the yellow tape on the door when I left in the morning.  We Brazilians know very well how to handle the police.”
“I’m sure you do.  You’re probably more than a match for a detective like Sloane.”  Quinn smiled at the thought.  “Hey, if you’re cooking dinner, could you make some for me too?” he asked.  “And as far as finding somewhere else to stay, you’re welcome here as long as you like.  If you were a friend of Behan’s, that’s good enough for me.  There’s room here for two.  You can have the bedroom.  The couch in the living room opens into a bed.”
Violeta didn’t say anything, just stared at Quinn speculatively.
Quinn put up his hands.  “I know what you’re thinking, but you can trust me,” he said.  “I’m certainly not going to hit on you.  But I wouldn’t mind having a friend.  After spending all those months with my sister, it’s lonesome sometimes being back on my own.”
“I trust you.”  Violeta laughed.  Her teeth were white and straight.  “But if I stay, I’ll be the one who sleeps on the couch.”
“I’m not going to argue with you.  You’re way too tough for me to put up a fight.”
“Oh, and you don’t have to worry about me hitting on you either,” announced Violeta.  “I’m gay, and I have a beautiful German girlfriend whom I love very much.  She’s been working the past few months in Milan, or else I’d be with her right now instead of sitting here bothering the life out of you.”  She watched Quinn closely to better judge his reaction.
“You’re not bothering me.  And you don’t have to worry about anyone who’s lived in San Francisco being a homophobe.  Just curious, though.  Did Behan know you were gay?”
“Oh, yeah.  He was fine with it.”  Violeta visibly relaxed.  “I never met a less prejudiced person in my life.  With him, it was always ‘live and let live.’”
“Yes, he was always openminded and raised me to be the same.”
“You remind me of him that way.  That was one reason I liked him so much.  Behan didn’t have any hangups, not that kind anyway.”
“What kind did he have?”
Violeta didn’t want to answer.  “Let’s have some dinner first, shall we?

After the two had finished eating homemade feijoada, a black bean stew, Violeta reached into one of the cupboards and brought out a bottle of cachaça.  “This stuff is strong as hell,” she said as she rinsed a glass for each of them.  “That’s why I like it, to be honest.”
“Yes, I’ve had it before.  Don’t mix mine with anything.  I’d rather have it straight.”  Quinn checked the label.  “I’m not usually a big drinker, but I could use something strong.”
Violeta poured two tumblers half full and handed one to Quinn.  “I used to work as a bartender, but it doesn’t take much skill to pour a drink like this.”
Quinn took a sip and then turned to his companion with the question that had been on his mind all evening.  “Violeta, why did Behan end up photographing only nudes? He used to be a street photographer.  I don’t understand why he put together all this studio equipment, especially when he was so low on money.  And it couldn’t have been that easy for him to find models willing to pose nude in the first place.”
“Yes, we models are always reluctant to show everything.  Wearing fine clothes is always easier because they give us confidence in our appearance.  But Behan’s photos were so gorgeous, as soft and elegant as paintings, that I didn’t mind at all.   And I wasn’t totally nude.  Behan preferred to photograph me wearing transparent fabrics draped over my body.”
“Yes, but why did he start photographing women at such a late date when he’d never shown any interest before?  That’s what I can’t understand.”
Violeta smiled gently.  “Oh, Quinn.  You aren’t old enough yet to realize how lonely life can be for someone like Behan when he starts to get on in years.  He never complained, but I could see how miserable he was.  He was always going on and on about the art he wanted to create, but I think one reason he began taking those photos was so he wouldn’t be alone all the time.  When he was photographing a model he had someone to talk with, a beautiful woman who’d look up to him and admire what he was able to accomplish.”
“But why did he want them always to be nude?”
Violeta laughed outright at that.  “I take it back.  Maybe you are old, and I just can’t see it.  Why do men ever want to see women nude?  It’s because it makes the men feel good.  What more reason do you need than that?”
“You mean it turned him on?  That’s what lay behind all those photos he took?”
“So to speak.  But it wasn’t so much that he planned to make love to any of those women as that he wanted to be reminded of the days when he was young and had had romantic relationships of his own.  He knew that part of his life was past, and he accepted that.  But he couldn’t stop his heart from remembering.  That was what kept him going.”
“So his photography was just an old man’s way to pass the time, is that it?”
“Yes, and it was harmless enough until he lost all perspective and really did fall in love.  Then it all became so sad.  That was his real hangup – a married woman.”
“What happened?”  Quinn leaned toward Violeta with a wry smile.  “It’s not that I want to pry into any of Behan’s secrets.  It’s just that I’m having a lot of trouble picturing my father all of a sudden acting like a lovesick teenager.  And with a married woman no less.  I can’t remember him even looking at a woman once he’d gotten divorced from my mom.” 
“You don’t have to explain to me.”  Violeta reached for Quinn’s hand and took it in her own.  “But I’m not sure there’s much I can tell you.  I don’t know the whole story myself because Behan never wanted to talk about it, not even with me.  And I never saw any of the photos he took of this woman.  For some reason, he gave her all the prints he’d made.  I’d never seen him so secretive.  Of course, that might have had something to do with the fact that she was married, but it was still a very strange situation.”
“How old was the woman?”
 “Behan once told me she was already in her thirties when they first met, but that she looked at least ten years younger.”
“She must have been extremely photogenic if Behan wanted so badly to photograph her.”  Quinn looked at the cameras across the room.  “Do you know what her name was?”
“She called herself Penelope, Behan told me, but I don’t know if that was her real name or just the one she used when she modeled.  And yes, she must have been wildly attractive from the way Behan raved on and on about her.  He really was obsessed.  Even though she refused point blank to ever pose nude, he still regarded her as his muse.  To hear him tell it, she was the most beautiful woman on earth.”  Violeta tossed her long mane of hair over her shoulder.  “Even more beautiful than me, if you can believe such a thing.”
“Where on earth did he come across a model like that?  Or like you for that matter?”
“I’m listed with a non-exclusive agency here in Manhattan and have worked runway for them.  And not just at Fashion Week either.  But agencies go through slow periods like other businesses and don’t always have enough jobs to go around.  I posted my profile on a few modeling sites to see if I could get some paying work to help tide me over those times.”
“Was it on one of those modeling sites that Behan found Penelope?” asked Quinn.
“Yes, she was petite and had no choice.  But even if she was too short for the catwalk or to be listed by an agency, Penelope had such a gorgeous face, at least according to Behan, that she got a great many print and beauty assignments from photographers here in the city and even scored a magazine cover or two along the way.”
“Is that why Behan wanted to photograph her?  Because she was a cover model?”
 “To be honest, I don’t know why Behan was so anxious at first to shoot Penelope.  But I suppose he was just as much attracted to her beautiful looks as all the other photographers and wanted to see how well he could capture her image.”  Violeta grinned broadly.  “Nothing makes a photographer’s work look so good as to have a fabulous model in front of the lens.  At least that’s what I always tell them when I try to get them to book me.”
 “Maybe when he saw her portfolio online he fell in love with her then and there.”  Quinn tried to think.  “But was Behan capable of something like that?  After having seen those photos of his, I’m not sure I even know the man anymore.”
“I don’t think it was personal on his part, at least not in the beginning.  Behan never went online to find a date.  Maybe it just happened that he lost his heart while he was photographing her.  He was always such a total romantic, more than any other man I’ve met.”
“But what about Penelope?  Was she in love with him?”
“No,” Violeta half sighed.  “That would have been impossible with such an age difference, wouldn’t it?  Penelope lived then with her family in New Jersey – they were very conservative people Behan told me, a Russian father and a Chinese mother – and she only came into the city for work every other week or so.  When she was here in Manhattan, she’d always make sure to pose for Behan because he offered her higher rates than other photographers did, even though he couldn’t very well afford it, and afterwards she’d let him take her to dinner.  I don’t think she was trying to take advantage of your father, but I doubt she felt anything more than friendship for him.  And then too, she needed the money he paid her.”
“How did it end?”  Quinn asked.  His expression showed he already knew.
“It did not end well at all.  Behan confessed to me once that he had begged Penelope over and over to marry him but that she had always refused.  Finally they had an argument, and Behan told me she said something very cruel to him.  After that, they didn’t see each other again for a long while.  When she did get back in touch with Behan, she was married.”
Quinn was curious.  “What did she say exactly that was so awful?”
 “I don’t know.  Behan wouldn’t tell me, only that it hurt a lot.”
“I can imagine.  The guy was wearing his heart on his sleeve.”
Quinn finished his drink.  When Violeta reached over to pour him another, he put his hand over the glass.  “Thanks, but I’m not going to be able to get up in the morning if I spend the whole night sitting here boozing it up with you.”
“Luckily, I don’t have to get up that early.  I don’t have any shoots scheduled for tomorrow.”  Violeta picked up her own glass and treated herself to another shot of liquor.
“By the way, did you ever see the DVD’s Behan had packed away in a cardboard box in the closet?”  Quinn tried to keep his tone nonchalant.
“Oh, yeah,” said Violeta between sips of cachaça.  She giggled and winked at Quinn.  “I have to confess I went looking through them myself one day to see if there were any that showed women enjoying themselves together.”
Quinn was intrigued.  “Did you find any?”
“No such luck.”  Violeta shook her head sadly and went back to her drink.  “They were all these strange stories with naked Japanese people in them.  I could never understand what was going on.  They were too weird for me.  A lot of them had bondage scenes.”
Shibari the Japanese call it.  And yeah, that sort of thing is too weird for me too.”
“Well, I wouldn’t mind having a pretty woman tied up in my bed once in a while,” Violeta joked.  “You look too vanilla for anything like that though, Quinn.  Admit it.”
“Yeah, you’re right.  I’m probably too uptight to enjoy that sort of fun.  I’d be worried the woman would go out for pizza and leave me tied to the bed with no clothes on.”
“I was just teasing.”  Violeta was fairly drunk by now.  “You do it however you enjoy it, and the hell with what anyone else thinks.”
Quinn tried to steer the conversation back on course.  “All those films seemed to be by the same director.  His name was Ito.”
“Oh, yeah.  Behan was always fascinated by that guy.  Don’t ask me why.  When your father wasn’t talking about Penelope, he was going on about Ito.  Bought all the DVD’s he could find that Ito had directed.  Even sent away to Japan for a few.  They weren’t cheap either, let me tell you.  I saw the invoice for one set, and it was outrageous.”
“I wonder what Behan was up to.”  Quinn was puzzled.  “If all he wanted was to watch a few adult films, what difference would it make to him who directed them?”
“Yes, it struck me as very unusual also.  I sometimes think Behan cared more about the man who made those movies than he did about the films themselves.  For some reason, your father wanted to learn as much about Ito as he could.  Behan was no expert when it came to computers, but he’d spend hours online searching for any reference to Ito he could find.  Then he’d sign off and put another DVD in the drive.  It went on like that the whole time I was staying here.  It started to freak me out a little.”
“That’s strange right there, don’t you think?” asked Quinn.  His voice grew reflective.  “I wonder what it was that could have sparked Behan’s interest in some obscure Japanese filmmaker.  The only movies I can remember him watching when I was a kid were John Wayne westerns.”
 “You don’t think Ito could have anything to do with your father’s murder, do you?  That’s too bizarre to even think about.”
Quinn picked up the bottle of cachaça and poured himself another drink after all.  “He was killed for some reason.  That’s all I know.  Once I’ve found the reason, I’ll have found the killer.  The police might be ready to let it go as a random mugging, but I’m not buying it.  Not for a minute.”
Violeta wasn’t convinced.  “But what connection could someone like Behan have to a film director, and one from another country at that?  It doesn’t make any sense.  As far as I know, the two never met, never had anything at all to do with one another.”
“That’s exactly what I intend to find out.  It’s a long shot, I know, but I have to start somewhere, and there don’t seem to be any other solid leads to follow.  Not yet anyway.”
Violeta put down her glass.  “Listen.  Your father was a decent man who didn’t deserve to die so horribly.  If you need any help finding his murderer, you let me know, ok?”
“Sure will.  Every good detective needs a Watson by his side.”
“What’s a Watson?” asked Violeta.  Her speech was slurred.
“Never mind,” Quinn laughed.  He poured Violeta another drink and then got up to find some sheets and a pillow to put on the couch.
“By the way,” said Violeta as she watched Quinn rise to his feet, “tonight isn’t the first time I’ve laid eyes on you.  I was at Behan’s funeral and saw you standing beside his coffin talking to him.”
Quinn recalled the dark haired woman whom he’d seen sitting a few rows behind everyone else.  “I was making him a promise.”
“I should have gone up to him and said goodbye myself.  I didn’t want to intrude, though, since I knew no one there.”
A thought struck Quinn.  “After the ceremony, I went to thank Viktor for having made the arrangements.  He told me he hadn’t had anything to do with it, that he hadn’t known anything about the funeral until he’d gotten a call from the parish priest.  It was someone else who paid to have the body taken from the morgue and who covered the cost of the service.  Viktor had no idea who it had been.”
Violeta appeared embarrassed.  “Well, what if it was me?  Behan was not only a great photographer but a good friend as well.  I couldn’t very well leave his body to be tossed into the street as though it were nothing but garbage.  Believe it or not, I’ve seen such things happen in the slums in Rio.”
“I can’t imagine it would ever go down that way in New York, but I appreciate the sentiment just the same.  You’ll have to let me pay you back, of course, for whatever it cost.”
“There’s no need.  It wasn’t that much money in the first place.  For me, it was a chance to show my appreciation for all Behan had done for me.”
Quinn regarded Violeta with new respect.  “Now I know why my father photographed you so often.  You’re definitely a knockout, but Behan saw something inside you that went a lot deeper than just good looks.  I think that’s what he was really trying to capture in his photographs.”

Violeta blushed and lifted her glass to him.  “I believe that’s the nicest compliment I’ve ever received.  Thank you so much for having said it.”