Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The Dark Veil: Chapter Eight

While waiting for the light to change on the corner of 21st and Tenth, Quinn and Violeta took a good look at the elevated park that loomed over them, the High Line, built atop the rail lines had once carried freight along the western edge of Manhattan.
“Years ago, this was nothing but rusted tracks overgrown with weeds,” Quinn recalled.  “It was a great place to hang out with friends or make love to a pretty woman.  We’d climb up on hot summer nights and smoke weed while we watched the moon set over Hoboken.  The breeze blowing across the Hudson kept us cool.”
“And now it’s nothing but another scenic spot for tourists to take selfies,” Violeta lamented.  “What a shame everything in this city has to be scrubbed so completely clean that it’s ruined for everyone.”
“Do you want to go up and take in the view?” asked Quinn.
Violeta shook her head.  “No.  I was up there when I first came to the city; some of the models I was staying with were giving me the grand tour.  Even then, I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to take photos of New Jersey.  There’s nothing there.”
Quinn couldn’t control his laughter.  “You’ve got that right.”
“Let’s go see that photo exhibit you were interested in.  Is the gallery near here?”
“A few blocks away.”
They walked up Tenth Avenue in silence and then turned left.  The squat brick buildings on each side of them had only a few years ago been warehouses and mini-storage facilities; now they were an upscale mix of condos, galleries and design studios.  As they walked together, the pair passed trendily dressed hipsters rushing back to work after a hurried lunch.  One or two shot Quinn a curious glance, wondering no doubt how so ragged a figure came to be walking beside so stunningly beautiful a woman.  Quinn paid them no mind.
The gallery turned out not to be the sleek modern space Quinn had expected but a ground level storefront that might once have housed a bodega or laundromat in the days before the neighborhood had gone high rent.  Inside, the walls had been stripped to the original brickwork; exposed cables and wiring hung precariously from the ceiling.  Two long fluorescent tubes ran parallel to one another overhead and provided sufficient illumination to view the artwork beneath.  At one end of the room was an ancient rolltop desk that might have possessed some value as an antique if its wooden surface hadn’t been so badly scarred. 
A young woman wearing a floral print top and wirerimmed glasses sat at the desk.  She had let her straight brunette hair grow so long it hung over the back of the chair behind her.  There was a well thumbed romance novel, its torn cover featuring a barechested male model, lying open on the desktop beside her.  A computer monitor cast colored patterns over her face as she typed on the keyboard.
An elderly man leaning heavily on a metal cane stood beside the receptionist.  He spoke with a heavy German accent as he barked out instructions.  From time to time, he banged the tip of the cane on the floor to emphasize his words.  “You must call the printer,” he said, “and find out what has happened to the invitations for our next opening, the same ones he was supposed to have had ready last Monday.  They should have been put in the mail by now.  People can’t attend a reception they don’t know is taking place.”
“Yes, Mr. Krankow,” said the brunette dutifully.
Quinn and Violeta turned discreetly away to look at the black & white photographs hung on the gallery’s walls.  They were the work of a pictorialist who had been active in California in the first half of the twentieth century and who had once been quite famous.  He had established his own school in Laguna and had even had a few Hollywood stars as students.  Later, though, he had fallen into obscurity as tastes had changed and as the straight photography of the f64 School had come into vogue.
Quinn hadn’t worked in a darkroom in years but, even so, as he examined the prints more closely he was able to appreciate the skill that had gone into making them.  There were some excellent examples of the bromoil technique among them.
“These are fabulous,” said Quinn to Violeta.  “The photographer had to have had so much imagination and technical skill to pull these off as well as he did.  Ansel Adams might have called his work lurid, but that was the whole point.”
“Are you a fan of Mortensen?”
Quinn turned at the voice behind him and saw the wizened octogenarian had left the receptionist and come to join them.  He still gripped his cane as he spoke.
“Yes, definitely” said Quinn.  His voice was filled with enthusiasm.  “The poor guy never got anything like the recognition he deserved.  His Monsters and Madonnas is still the best book of fetish photography ever done, and what’s amazing is that Mortensen completed it back in the 1930’s before the term had even been invented.”
“You know a bit then.  More than most anyway.”  Krankow chuckled.  “Come over here.  I want to show you something.”
Quinn and Violeta followed the old man as he made his way to a far wall where a group of photographs hung by themselves.
“If you enjoyed Monsters and Madonnas, you’ll appreciate these.”
Hanging together on the wall were several of the prints that had been used to illustrate the book.  Among them was one titled L’Amour that showed a drooling gorilla hunched over the prone figure of an unconscious woman, her clothing already torn to shreds by the beast.  Beside it was Preparation for the Sabbot in which an old hag lustily rubbed oil on the nude body of a laughing young woman who was all set to fly off on her broom.  And finally there was The Heretic; it depicted a woman, her face a mask of terror, stripped naked and bound to a wooden frame as she awaited the return of the Inquisition’s torturers.
“These are incredible,” said Quinn.  “This is the first chance I’ve had to see the original prints.”
“Look over here,” said Krankow and pointed with his cane.
Set off from the other works was Mortensen’s masterpiece, his illustration of Poe’s story, The Pit and the Pendulum.  A horrified man lay tied securely to the stone floor where he could only watch helplessly as the razor sharp pendulum above him swung downwards and ever closer.
“Wow,” exclaimed Violeta in astonishment.  “That’s too much.”

After they had left the Krankow Gallery, Quinn invited Violeta to have lunch with him.  “Not that there’s much I can afford in this neighborhood,” he said, and then added, “or anywhere else in Manhattan for that matter.”
“Don’t worry about it.  We can pick up sandwiches on our way back to the apartment and eat them there.  That’s fine with me.”
“You’re a good sport, Violeta.  I appreciate it.  And so does my wallet.”
At that moment Quinn heard the roar of an engine behind him.  Without thinking, he pushed Violeta off the sidewalk and against the side of the building they were passing.  As he pressed her against the brickwork, he flattened himself beside her.
Looking over his shoulder, Quinn saw a huge black SUV mount the curb and rush past the spot on the sidewalk where he had been standing with Violeta only seconds before.    The driver didn’t brake or even slow down as the side of the car brushed within an inch of where the two friends stood upright against the brick wall.  Quinn tried to get a glimpse of the vehicle’s interior, but its windows had been too darkly tinted.
The car continued to race along the sidewalk without slackening its speed until it reached the corner where it bounced over the curb and landed with a jolt on Tenth Avenue.  With a squeal of rubber, the car made a sharp left turn and headed north.  In the next second it was lost to sight though the sound of the throbbing engine could still be heard.
“Oh, man,” screamed Violeta.  Her eyes flashed with fury.  “That was way too close.  That asshole could have killed us the way he was driving.”
“I think that was the general idea,” replied Quinn.  He looked down at his hand and was surprised to see it was still perfectly steady.
“What do you mean by that?”  Violeta turned toward Quinn.  She was almost hysterical.  “Do you know that guy?  I thought he was just some crazy person.”
Quinn shook his head.  “I have no idea who it was.  I couldn’t see inside.”
“Then what are you talking about?  What makes you think he was after us?”
Quinn continued staring at the spot where the car had disappeared.  “Somebody tried to kill me my first night in town.  I guess he isn’t ready to give up yet.”
Violeta looked toward Quinn in confusion.  “I don’t get it.  What’s going on?  I thought you told me you didn’t know anyone in New York.  How could you have made such a bad enemy already?  And what could you have done to him that was so terrible he’d want to kill you for it?”
“I don’t have any proof,” Quinn said, “but it has to have something to do with Behan’s murder.  Whoever killed him doesn’t want me looking into it.  He wants to make certain I’m not going to keep searching for him.”
“Damn, honey, you’ve got to go to the police then.  If this guy is desperate enough to go after you in broad daylight, you’re not safe until he’s been locked up in jail.  You can’t keep walking around the streets making a target of yourself.”
“What will the cops do?  They’ll tell me it was most likely an accident, that the guy’s brakes failed and he lost control of the car.”
“Well, I’m going to call the police even if you won’t.  I almost got killed back there too, you know.  This is no joke.”
“I know it’s not.”  Quinn glanced at Violeta’s frightened face.  “The son of a bitch is so anxious to take me down that he doesn’t care who dies with me.”
“That’s exactly why I’m going to the police.  They should be able to find the driver easily.  Somebody must have noticed that car the way it was speeding.  No one can drive that fast in Manhattan without scaring the shit out of people.”
“The car will probably turn out to have been stolen.  And whoever took it will have been too much of a pro to have left any fingerprints on the steering wheel.”
“I got the first three letters of the license plate.  They were JZY.”

“I’ll give you Sloane’s number,” said Quinn.  He put his hand on Violeta’s shoulder to help calm her down.  “You can tell him what happened.  Behan’s dead, and for all I know I may be soon too.  But you’ve got to stay safe.  There’s no reason you should be involved in any of this.”

No comments:

Post a Comment