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.”

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