Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The Dark Veil: Chapter Four

“How are you doing, Quinn?”  Shaley had jumped out of his chair and begun pumping the younger man’s hand as soon as he’d lifted the gate and stepped off the elevator.
“Fine, just fine.”  As he tried to free his hand from the other’s grip, Quinn took in with an experienced eye the setup Shaley had put together for himself. 
Spread out in front of him was a high tech photo studio stocked with the most expensive equipment money could buy.  A whole wall was taken up by an array of computer workstations with widescreen 34” monitors hung directly above them.  Medium format cameras and DSLR’s lay one beside the other on long tables; lined up next to them were light meters, pocket wizards and every other imaginable accessory a photographer might need for his work.  In the center of the room, soft boxes hung from railings embedded in the ceiling so that the lighting could be moved about easily with no need for stands.  On the floor to one side were several 4800ws and 2400ws power packs.   The loft space itself was impressive – almost 2,000 square feet of prime Soho real estate.
“Talk about gear lust,” said Quinn.  “This place is any shutterbug’s dream come true.”  He pointed to the cameras.  “Aren’t those are the new model Hasselblads you’ve got over there?   They must have set you back plenty.  I priced them myself at B&H, but they were way out of my range.”
“Worth it though,” said Shaley with a sense of pride in his voice.  “Fabulous imaging capabilities.  They give me a big edge over the competition when I’m bidding for jobs.”
“I bet they do.”  Quinn stepped back to get a better look at his host.  “Never mind the studio though.  You’re looking damned good yourself.  How old are you now?  Because you don’t look a day over 50.  You must work out non-stop to keep yourself so fit.”
Shaley did in fact appear the picture of health.  He stood almost as tall as Quinn himself and was just as strongly built.  Though he weighed a good 250 pounds, he hadn’t an ounce of fat on his body.   His curly blonde hair was still thick as ever, and his perfectly even teeth shone brightly beneath the overhead light fixtures.  He let out a boisterous laugh as he pounded his chest as though to emphasize to Quinn how vigorous he still was.  “Hell, I’ll be 68 in a couple of months, the exact same age as your father, may he rest in peace.  But you already know that.  You remember perfectly well that he and Lachner and I grew up together in the Bronx.  We were inseparable.”
“Of course.”  Quinn smiled.  “When I was a little kid I used to stay up past my bedtime to watch you guys sit drinking beer together.  That was before Mom got the divorce and everything went all to hell.  You and Lachner would stop by, and the three of you would watch the Yankees on TV and swap stories about the rock concerts you’d seen.  Every once in a while you’d take a break just long enough to ask me how I was doing in school.”
“Yes,” said Shaley.  “Those were the days.  How I miss them now.”
“I miss them too,” agreed Quinn.  “I never realized back then how happy I was.  It’s only now that Behan’s dead that I’ve begun to appreciate how much fun we had.”
Shaley’s face grew somber.  “When I saw on the news what happened to him down in Chinatown, it knocked the wind right out of me.  Behan was a good guy and a good friend.  He didn’t deserve to end up that way.  At least it was quick.  He didn’t have to suffer.”
“What was worst was that he died alone.  When I think of him lying on the pavement with the blood pouring out of him and no one around to help, it’s hard for me to take.”
Shaley’s expression was filled with sympathy.  “You haven’t had it that easy yourself, kid.  First you mom passed, then your sister, and now Behan.  There’s no one left, is there?”
“No, I haven’t any other family.  I’m on my own.  Just like Behan was.”
Shaley put his hand on the Quinn’s shoulder.  “Don’t worry.  I don’t forget old friends.  If there’s ever anything you need, you can come to me day or night and I’ll do what I can.  I’m not sure what you’re up to these days with your own photography; but if you ever need studio space, you’re welcome to use mine.”
“I appreciate that, I really do.” 
“I mean it.”
“I know you do,” said Quinn.  “But with all the lighting equipment Behan left behind and my own cameras, I’m pretty well set.”
“Are you talking about those old Speedotrons I passed on to him?  That’s one great system.  I worked with them for years myself.  With those, you’ve got as much lighting as you’ll ever need.  It doesn’t matter how low an ISO you’re working with; you can stop down as far as the aperture will go.”
“I’m looking forward to working with them when I have more time.  But right now I’m after information more than anything else.  That’s the real reason I stopped by today.”
“I’ll be happy to tell you whatever I can.”  Shaley sat back down behind his desk.  “If it’s about what happened to your father, though, all I know about it is what was on the news.  And that wasn’t much.”
“That’s ok,” said Quinn.  “I wasn’t expecting you to tell me who did it.  If the police were doing their job, I wouldn’t have to get involved in the first place.”
Shaley looked up.  “They haven’t any suspects then?”
“If they do, they’re certainly not telling me.  Then again, maybe they know more than they’re letting on.  The cops always like to hold their cards close.”
“I got a phone call yesterday from a detective named Sloane.  He asked me a few questions, but there wasn’t much I could tell him.  I didn’t know squat about what your father was doing these past few years, let alone why he was wandering around Chinatown in the middle of the night.  It ended up being a pretty short conversation.”
“I’m glad Sloane didn’t give you too hard a time,” Quinn said.  “I’d feel bad if he had.  I was the one who gave him your name.  He was looking for any old friends who could fill him in on Behan’s past.  You and Lachner were the only ones who came to mind.  Actually, except for family, I don’t think my father was ever that close to anyone but you two.”
Shaley shrugged.  “I didn’t mind the detective contacting me.  That was just routine.  But you’d think the cops would be able to find something out on their own.”
“That’s what I thought too.  Then again, that alleyway where Behan was killed was a pretty deserted spot, at least for Manhattan.  There’s a good chance the detective was right when he told me there were no witnesses.”
“Something will turn up.  Just wait and see.”  Shaley spread his hands.  “A few months from now the police will bust some junkie for breaking & entering.  They’ll start to sweat him and the next thing you know he’ll cough up the name of Behan’s killer just so he can cop to a reduced charge.  That’s the way it always works.”
“That’s fine, but I don’t have a few months.”  Quinn’s expression darkened.  “Whoever killed Behan tried to get me the other night in front of my hotel.”
“What?”  There was no mistaking the shock in Shaley’s eyes.  “I can’t believe it.  Are you sure of what you’re telling me?”
“A pile of bricks didn’t just fall off an office building by themselves and onto the sidewalk in front of me.  Someone gave them a push to help them along.”
“I can’t believe it,” Shaley repeated.  “It must’ve been an accident.  Bricks come loose from these old New York buildings every day.  It’s a wonder more people aren’t killed in this city by all the junk that keeps crashing down on top of them.”
 “This was no accident.  If those bricks had come loose by themselves, they’d still have had some mortar clinging to them.  These were clean and new.  Someone had them ready and waiting.”
Shaley considered.  “What did the cops have to say about it?  Do they think it has anything to do with Behan’s murder?”
“I haven’t told the detective.  Not yet anyway.”
“Why the hell not?  This might be what they need to get their investigation going.”
“Because if someone’s out to get me, I’m not going to play the sitting duck while the police go poking around in their own good time trying to decide who it is.”  Quinn’s voice dropped a notch.  “The police don’t give a damn about me, and I’m not about to let them set me up.  I’ve got a better chance of staying alive if I’m working by myself.”
“No one’s stopping you, but I still think it might be smart to let the police in on it.  Let’s face it – there’s not much you can do for Behan if you’re dead yourself.”
“I’ll fill them in later.  I want to see what I can pick up first.  When I do tell the cops, I want to have something solid to hand them, something they can’t ignore.  They’re not paying nearly as much as much attention to what happened to Behan as they should.  The murder of a penniless old man isn’t very high on their list of priorities.”
Shaley folded his hands in a gesture of helplessness.  “Whatever you say.”
“I’m between photography assignments right now and have plenty of time to check things out on my own.  A lot more time than the cops have apparently.”
“So now you’re playing Sherlock Holmes.”
“Come on, Shaley.  This is my father that was murdered.  Your friend, remember?  I’d have thought you’d want me to do what I could.”
“Of course I do.  I understand how you feel.  And I’m happy to help in any way I’m able.  What can I do though if I don’t know anything to begin with?”
Quinn sat down on the opposite side of Shaley’s desk and regarded the other steadily.  “Behan was killed for a reason.  Someone has to know something.”
Shaley gave in.  He picked up a DSLR from the shelf behind him and carefully removed the lens cap.  “Hand me that package of lens cleaning paper on the table beside you, will you?  I might as well keep busy while we talk.”
“I appreciate this,” Quinn said as he handed over the thin sheets of tissue. 
“No problem.”
“When was the last time you saw my father?”
“That’s just it,” explained Shaley.  “I hardly ever saw Behan the last few years.  He’d come by every once in a while asking if I had any work available – assisting or helping put sets together – but there was never anything I could really use him for.  The guy was still shooting Tri-X, for Christ’s sake.  He had no idea how to work with a digital camera, didn’t even understand what Photoshop was all about.  I’d just sit and talk to him for a while then take him downstairs for a meal.  He was lonely and needed the company.  Occasionally I’d offer him a few dollars to help tide him over, but he’d never take it.”
“No, he never would.  He was always too proud to take anything from anyone.”
“You’d know, wouldn’t you?  You were his son after all.”
“It’s too bad you had nothing for him.  He really was a fantastic photographer.  Some of the street work he did was as good as anything Cartier-Bresson shot.  My father knew the city inside out and he knew how to capture what was happening in it, whether it was the rich on their way to Carnegie Hall or the homeless panhandling for change to buy themselves a meal.  Hand the man a camera, and he’d come back with a great photo every time.”
“Maybe so, but it’s a different game these days.  You’re a photographer yourself, so you know how it is with digital.  It’s more about computers than it is cameras.”
“You said you’d talk to Behan when he came by here,” Quinn persisted.  “Didn’t he ever mention how he was spending his time or who he was keeping company with?”
Shaley put the DSLR down and leaned forward.  “You still don’t get it, do you?  He didn’t have anyone else.  That’s it, plain and simple.  He’d stop by to talk old times with me.  On days when I didn’t have time to toss the bull, he’d go over to the East Side to spend a few hours at Lachner’s place.  Same deal there.  We were all he had left.  He didn’t talk about what he was doing because he wasn’t doing anything.  He was down and out and had pretty much given up hope as far as I could tell.”
“I hear what you’re telling me well enough.  And maybe you’re right, maybe Behan did finally give up trying.  But even so, he still must have talked about something when he was here besides old times.”
Shaley paused, then went back to cleaning the lens even more carefully than before.  “He talked about you, Quinn.  Wondered how you were doing.  He brought in a copy of National Geographic once that had some of the photos you’d shot of Bhutan inside.  He was as proud of those pictures as if he’d taken them himself.  The guy missed you something fierce.  It’s too bad you couldn’t have made it back to the city while he was still alive.  It would have meant the world to him.”
Quinn lowered his head and was silent for a moment.  “Yes,” he said at last, “you’ve got that right.  I was never there for Behan when I should have been.  I was too busy with my own life to think of him or to care if he needed anything.  I never wrote to him except to send him a card on his birthday.  I could have invited him out to California for a visit, but I never did.  I guess I was afraid he might embarrass me in front of my friends.”
“Don’t be too hard on yourself.  We’ve all got to go our own way.  Behan might have had a few bad breaks, but in the end he was the one who chose the life he led.”
“Yeah, sure.  But that doesn’t really let me off the hook, does it?”
“It doesn’t do any good to beat yourself up this way,” Shaley admonished him.  “What’s the point?  It’s not going to bring Behan back.”
“Maybe you’re right.”  Quinn rose and reached for his faded brown leather jacket.  It seemed ready to fall apart at any minute.  “Are you going to the funeral tomorrow?  It’s at eleven in the morning at Holy Trinity, the Catholic church on 82nd Street.”
“Sure, I know the place,” Shaley replied.  “I passed it by dozens of times when I went walking around the West Side, but I never stopped to go inside.  I’m a lapsed Catholic if there ever was one.”
“You’re not the only one.  Behan ranted and railed against the Church all his life.  He never missed a chance to call it out for having repressed the Irish people for so many years.  And now he’s going to be lying in his coffin with a priest praying over him.  What irony.”
“We never know what’s going to become of us when we’re dead, do we?”
A few minutes later, Quinn was headed north on Varick toward Houston Street where he could catch the uptown 1 train that would carry him home.  Before he’d left Shaley’s studio, he’d gotten from him Lachner’s phone number and address.  Shaley hadn’t been that anxious to give it to him, but Quinn had insisted.
“I don’t see the point,” the older man had said.  “Lachner won’t be able to tell you anything more than I could.”
“What the hell,” Quinn had replied.  “I don’t have anything to lose, do I?  Besides, I think seeing another of my father’s old friends would make me feel a bit closer to Behan somehow.  Don’t laugh, but the whole time I was sitting here talking with you this afternoon, I felt he was with us in some strange way.  It helped keep his memory alive for me.  I know if he were watching, Behan would want me to stay in touch with both of you.”

The Church of the Holy Trinity was one of the oldest in the neighborhood.  Located between Amsterdam and Broadway, it had been built in 1912 and was renowned for its Byzantine architecture.  Once inside, Quinn was carried back to his days as an altar boy.
There in the semidarkness were the wooden pews, the stained glass windows, the racks of candles flickering before the statues of Mary and Joseph.  In the center, above the altar, was a mosaic of Christ standing with his arms outspread as if ready to welcome Behan into heaven.
In his childhood, Quinn had gone every week with his mother to Sunday morning mass at St. Nicholas of Tolentine.  When the priest in his pulpit had quoted the words of St. Paul, “For you know neither the day nor the hour,” Quinn had been sure he was going to hell no matter what absolution he’d been given in the confessional.  Heaven, where beautiful angels played on harps, had never been intended for the likes of him.  Afterwards, he’d knelt at the altar rail and taken communion, careful never to let the sacred host fall to the ground.
Now Quinn looked to the front of the church where Behan’s coffin had been placed directly before the rail.  Since there’d been no wake, the plain wooden box had been left open so the mourners would have a chance to say a final goodbye.  Not that there were many present.  Only a handful sat together in the front row pew.  There was Viktor in an old fashioned brown suit that smelled badly of mothballs.  His curly hair was slicked back with some gooey substance that could have been axle grease.  Beside him sat Mayla in a black dress that must have been left over from some Goth movie thriller in which she’d once appeared.  If she’d had a raven perched on her shoulder, she couldn’t have conjured any better the spirit of Edgar Allan Poe, who coincidentally had himself once lived nearby on 84th Street west of Broadway.
Shaley was there as well.  Dressed as an ageless hipster in black leather, he played to perfection the part of the glamorous fashion photographer.
At the far end of the same pew, Sloane kept to the side.  Still wearing the same awful polyester tie, he looked intently at everyone present.  He was doubtlessly hoping that the murderer, unable to stay away, would make his presence known.
A few rows further back, a tall dark haired woman sat alone.  It was impossible to make out her features in the dim light or even to know if she were there for the funeral.
Together they recited the lines from the Dies Irae.
“When the wicked are confounded,
Doomed to flames of woe unbounded,
Call me with Thy saints surrounded.”
The remainder of the funeral mass, solemnly intoned by the priest in his black vestments, was soon over.  The words held little meaning for Quinn.  There would be no resurrection and life hereafter for Behan.  Of that he was certain.  Even so, he’d have preferred that the verses had been said in Latin and their mystery left intact.   Mercifully, there had been no homily.  The priest would have been hard pressed to find any encomium appropriate to the life Behan had led.
Once the mass had finished, Viktor and Mayla moved toward the coffin to pay their respects.  Quinn followed directly behind them.  As he looked down at his father, he could not help noticing how youthful Behan looked.  He was dressed in a designer suit that would have been the envy of any male model and had a crimson jacquard tie fastened about his throat.  His face was unlined and a half smile played about his lips as though he had at last been let in on the joke.   “So long, Irishman,” Quinn said in a voice too low for anyone else to hear.  “You had a shit life, but at least it’s over now.”  Then he added softly.  “Don’t worry.  I’m going to nail the bastard who took you down if it’s the last thing I ever do.”

That was the end of the simple ceremony.  None of those present would accompany Behan on his last ride to St. John’s Cemetery in Queens.  There was a plot waiting for him there beside those where his parents, and before them his grandparents, had been interred long before.  There was room there too for Quinn when his own turn came to join his family.  There wouldn’t be need for more space after that.  Quinn was the last of his line.

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