Friday, May 18, 2018

Australian Tourist

This tourist from Australia had no problem letting me take his photo last year near Bethseda Fountain.  He asked me where I was from and was surprised to learn that I lived in the neighborhood.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The Dark Veil: Chapter Eighteen

“You knew your husband was going to take a shot at me, didn’t you?” Quinn demanded.  His voice rang out loudly in the small confines of the wine bar.  The other customers turned as one to stare at the table where he and Penelope were seated.   Several of them, eager to capture any distubrance on video, readied their smartphones in anticipation.
“No, Quinn, no.  I swear I didn’t.”
Quinn grasped his companion’s wrist and pulled her to him.
Penelope cried out in pain.  “That hurts.”
Quinn looked down at his hand as though it were somehow independent of him and had acted on its own.  “I’m sorry.”  An aggrieved expression crossed his face as he regarded the red imprints his fingers had left on Penelope’s arm.  He immediately released his grip.
“How do you know it was Cecil who shot at you?” Penelope asked as she rubbed her bruised skin.  “Did you recognize him?  Are you sure?” 
“Who else could it have been?”  Quinn countered, but in a lower tone of voice.  “He’s the only one who has any reason to want me dead.  Curwin knows I’m going to expose him as Behan’s murderer, and he wants to keep me from doing that at any cost.  Maybe this was just a warning and he had no intention of actually killing me, but this was his work all right.”
“It’s all in your imagination.  My husband has never shot anyone in his life.  We’re living in a city where illegal guns are constantly killing people.  You might not even have been the target.  It might have been a stray bullet from some drug dealer’s gun.”
“This is the Upper West Side, not East New York.  There haven’t been any drug dealers running wild in this neighborhood since the 1970’s.”  Quinn waved his hand dismissively.  “Besides, there’s another reason I think your husband might want to get rid of me.”
“You think he’s jealous, don’t you?  All we did the other day was have lunch.  I don’t know how Cecil found out about it this time, but he did.  And yes, he was incredibly upset.  Still, that’s not enough to turn him into a homicidal maniac.”
Quinn took Penelope’s hand, only much more gently, as he stared into her glittering yellow eyes.  “Just lunch?  Is that all it was to you?  Tell me right now there was nothing more to it than that.  You can’t because you know we both felt something pass between us.”
As Quinn sat regarding her, Penelope was overwhelmed by memories come flooding back.  “It’s strange, but Behan used to say almost the exact same thing.  He’d beg me to admit I felt something for him.  But I couldn’t.  There wasn’t anything inside me to give him.”
Quinn turned away his eyes and looked about the wine bar – its Italian name fashionably unpronounceable – where they sat drinking their lattes.  He was embarrassed and wanted to change the subject.  “Forty years ago, this was a junkie coffee shop called Little Joe’s.  It had a rack of stale doughnuts and a sandwich grill, but mostly it was a place for pushers to sell smack.  You could tell who the addicts were easily enough by the way they held the sugar dispensers over their paper coffee cups.  They could never get it sweet enough.  In the summer, instead of putting in air conditioning, the shop’s owners would simply take out the plate glass windows and let the junkies fall off their stools onto the sidewalk outside.
“I remember there was an after-hours club for pimps only – they actually had to have women walking the streets to get inside – a block further up on Columbus.  We’d watch those pimps drive down from Harlem and park their brand new Cadillacs at the curb.  After they’d finished partying, they came in here to buy dope to shoot up the whores they had working for them.  Once the women were hooked, it was a lot easier to keep them in line.”
“Charming,” said Penelope.  “You sound like you actually miss those days.”
“At least the neighborhood was alive then, not just some stodgy real estate investment the way it is today.  We had a lot more fun back then, believe me.  I was just a kid but I can still remember what it was like.   There were plenty of times Behan hung out with Shaley at McGlade & Ward’s on the next corner and spent the night there knocking back boilermakers until they were both too shitfaced to even stand.  There was a party every night on this block, but nobody ever called the cops.  The whole West Side was more diverse; it wasn’t just a bunch of uptight white business people in expensive suits.  There were plenty of actors and dancers living in brownstone apartments in the days when rents were cheap.”
Penelope smiled.  “Behan always talked about the old days in this neighborhood too.”
“It’s not just this area that’s changed; it’s the whole city that’s gone to shit.”
“Maybe that’s why you take your father’s death so hard.  You see it as the end of an era.  For you, it’s more than just the killing of a single individual.  It’s the loss of a city.”
Quinn considered.  “I never thought of it that way,” he admitted.
Penelope took advantage of Quinn’s change in mood.  “If you could get past your suspicions of Cecil for a moment,” she asked, “is there anyone else you can think of who might have been involved in Behan’s murder?”
“That’s just it.  There isn’t anyone else, except maybe Cecil’s pornographer friend Ito.  And if Ito was involved, I can’t believe your husband wouldn’t know anything about it.  And why should Ito have been driven to commit murder in the first place?  He had no motive.  The films he makes aren’t illegal, just disgusting.  Even if Behan had managed to get something on him, all Ito had to do was fly home to Japan and leave it all behind.”
“Don’t you see that you’re only going around in circles?” Penelope couldn’t hide her vexation.  “Cecil would have had as little motive as Ito, and he certainly possesses more than enough wealth to protect himself from whatever threat Behan could have posed.”
“So you’re saying I should just let it go?”
“I’m saying you should let the police handle it.  Isn’t that what everyone else is telling you to do?”  Penelope sipped from the latte in front of her; it had already grown cold.
“Yes, especially the police themselves.”
“Maybe it’s good advice then.” 
“If I did drop it, you wouldn’t have me around to annoy you any longer.”
“You’re not annoying me, just driving me crazy.”  Penelope sighed as she said it.
Quinn laughed.  “I only wish I were able to drive you crazy.”
Penelope reached over and pulled a long red hair from the sleeve of Quinn’s Armani jacket.  “Oh, I think you’ve already found a woman to drive crazy.  You’re not going to tell me your dark eyed Brazilian roommate has red hair, are you?”
Quinn found himself blushing.  “That’s from my neighbor Mayla.  She’s an actress living in my building.”
“It’s ok,” said Penelope.  She kept her voice light.  “You don’t have to explain.  All we did was have lunch.  I’m sure you didn’t tell your redheaded friend it was anything more than that.  Assuming you told her anything at all.”
“Wow,” said Quinn.  “You’re jealous.  Just listen to yourself talk.”
Penelope frowned.  “Please, let’s stop acting like schoolchildren.  I’m a married woman.  Wouldn’t it be better if we didn’t see one another again?”
“Wasn’t it you who wanted to meet for lunch the last time?”
“Yes, but I was wrong.  I can see that now.”
“I guess you don’t want to be near me if anyone takes another shot.”
“That’s totally unfair, and you know it.”  Penelope got up abruptly and pulled on her cognac colored lambskin Chanel coat.  “I’m going now.”
Quinn seemed not to have expected her to leave so soon.  “I won’t see you again?”
“You have my number if you want to call.  But I’m not interested in hearing any more paranoid suspicions regarding my husband, or any other theories at all for that matter.  That’s finished as far as I’m concerned.”
“What if I just want to talk with you again?”
“I like you, and I’m attracted to you.  But it’s not going any further than that.”
 “Now who’s being unfair?  You know I’m already in love with you.”
“Then start acting like an adult and prove it.”  Penelope turned on her heel and walked out onto Columbus to hail a cab.

“We have a few things to talk over, Ito.” 
They weren’t at the director’s midtown studio this time.  Instead, Quinn had ridden the L train down to Bushwick where Ito was working in a large production facility near Flushing Avenue.  The address had been listed on Ito’s website. 
Ito was beyond annoyed.  “Why must you keep bothering me?”
“Because someone shot at me and tried to kill me, and I’d like to find out who the hell it was.  You can understand how I’d want to know.”
“Well, it certainly wasn’t me,” said Ito.  His tone was defiant.  “I have no gun.”
“I didn’t think it was you that pulled the trigger.  But you know who it was that wanted me dead, and you’re damned well going to tell me.  I’m going to make you talk even if I have to beat the living daylights out of you right here.”
An assistant approached Ito.  She was in her early twenties, blonde with blue eyes.  She held a clapperboard in her hand.  “We’re ready to start, sir,” she informed the director. 
“Right away,” Ito said.  He turned to Quinn.  “If you really must go on like this, wait a few minutes at least until I finish this scene.  It’s for a ‘women in prison’ film.  We’ve been working on it all morning.  I want to get it wrapped up before moving on to anything else.”
Quinn walked to the side of the set along with Ito and stood where he could watch the entire sequence as it was filmed.
 A bamboo stockade fence had been erected.  A couple of thatched huts to the side stood in for prisoner barracks.  In the center of the stage, which had been loosely covered with sand, a nude Filipina woman had been bent face down over a saw horse, her arms and legs fastened to the support legs so that she couldn’t move. 
Two actors playing guards approached the woman.  They were wearing moth-eaten uniforms that might have been relics from a World War II propaganda film. 
“What happens next?” Quinn asked. 
“Bad things,” replied Ito. 
Quinn didn’t ask any more questions.  He stood silently with Ito while the fake soldiers armed themselves with buckets and a red enema bag.  The woman watched them apprehensively but was unable to defend herself when they descended upon her.
After the take had been completed to his satisfaction, Ito started to walk away.  Quinn followed.  The two guards were left behind to untie the woman and clean her up.
“Now let’s finish with this nonsense,” said Ito.  “If I have investors or partners in my business, that information is private.  Their identities are of no concern to you.”
“You’ll excuse me,” Quinn interrupted, “but people shooting at me is of big concern to me.  At the moment, my respect for your right to privacy is pretty well nonexistent.”
The director rolled his eyes.  “What you imagine is of no consequence to me.  I’m tired of you threatening me and trying to intimidate me.  If you want to hit me, go ahead and do it.  I will only call Detective Sloane and have you arrested.”
Quinn stared at Ito for several seconds without blinking.  “You’re taking a hard line, but I can see you’re really scared shitless.  Why don’t you level with me and tell me what you know?  The police will give you protection if you cooperate.”
Ito gave Quinn a blank look.  “I don’t know what you mean.  I’m in no danger from anyone, least of all from my business associates.  You’re talking foolishly again.”
“Why are you so nervous then?” Quinn persisted.  “You never expected to become involved in murder, did you?  Now you’re in so deep you can’t get out.  Meanwhile, whoever you’re covering for is going to keep killing.  And you may be next.  Your American business associates, not to mention the yakuza, may not have enough faith in your ability to keep a secret.  I’m sure you’ve heard the expression ‘Dead men tell no tales.’”
Ito put his hand to his forehead.  “Now you’re being melodramatic.  I should hire you to write the script for my next film.”
“Your films actually have scripts?  That’s news to me.”
The director had had enough.  “Stop insulting me and leave.”

“I’m going, Ito.  But remember what I said about telling what you know.  Once the bullets start flying at you, it’s going to be too late to reconsider.”

Monday, May 14, 2018

Photo Exhibit: Erwin Blumenfeld

Despite his many accomplishments - he holds the record for most Vogue covers - and the tremendous influence he exerted on younger fashion photographers, Erwin Blumenfeld has never received the wide public recognition that is his due.  Even his Wikipedia biography is little more than a stub.  Partly this was an accident of history - like many other German artists of his generation, Blumenfeld was forced to flee the Nazis and to live the life of an expatriate.  A more recent complication was the division of his archive, amounting to some 30,000 negatives and 8,000 prints according to the British Journal of Photography, distributed among family members following his death in 1969.

In addition to his talent with a camera, Blumenfeld was also a superb darkroom technician who was not afraid to experiment with innovative techniques such as the Sabatier Effect.  These, combined with his proclivity for using mirrors, veils and painted backgrounds in his photoshoots, allowed him to create a truly unique body of work.  Already while in Amsterdam in the 1920's, he had begun to explore Dadaism and his photographs were shown there in a group show beside the work of George Grosz (a lifelong friend), Man Ray and Moholy-Nagy.  It was upon moving to Paris in 1936 that he began his career as a fashion photographer.  By the time he emigrated to New York in 1941 he already had an international reputation and was immediately put under contract at Harper's Bazaar by Carmel Snow.

The current exhibit at the Edwynn Houk Gallery, while hardly qualifying as a major retrospective, does contain a number of Blumenfeld's most important works, enough to make this one of the most important photo exhibits of the year.  It opens with one of the photographer's most iconic images, a superb 1939 shot of a model in a billowing white dress perched precariously on the Eiffel Tower high above the streets of Paris.

Most of the photos shown at the current exhibit are untitled prints that feature female models photographed in the most imaginative ways possible.  Just looking at them should be sufficient to provide photographers with a lifetime of inspiration.  Perhaps the best is a photograph of a model, nude but for a cloth twisted about her waist, lying prone on her back.  It's a fine an example of the Sabatier Effect as I've seen.

There are two self-portraits in the show, one from 1937 where the photographer in his Paris studio shot himself in a mirror surrounded by his prints.  In the foreground is a sculpture of a torso with a photo of a model's face where the head would be.  It captures Bluemenfeld's entire world in a single image.  The second is a much more conventional portrait (except for the solarized printing) from 1950 in which the photographer wears a bow tie and looks more a Midwestern dentist than an artist.

There's also a portrait of Cecil Beaton from the 1940's that shows only one side of the famous photographer's face while the other is left in silhouette.  The eerily lit backdrop gives the print a definite Surrealist aura.

It wouldn't serve any real purpose to describe any more of the photos on display.  They really have to be seen in order for their originality to be appreciated.  For those unable to attend the show, there's a monograph by William Ewing, a copy of which I have in my library, that contains excellent reproduction's of Blumenfeld's work.

The exhibit continues through June 2, 2018.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Sitting on a Bench on Columbus Avenue

As I was walking along Columbus Avenue recently, I saw this man sitting on a bench in back of Theodore Roosevelt Park.  Seated with his wheel chair, cane and shopping bags, he seemed to be enjoying himself as he watched the world pass by and had no problem when I asked to take his photo.  We chatted for a few minutes and he told me he had lived nearby on 82nd Street for fifty years.  After we'd parted, I felt bad that I had never even asked the man his name.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The Dark Veil: Chapter Seventeen

Quinn, climbing his building’s front stoop, dropped his keys and bent to pick them up.  At that same instant a bullet screamed into the brick wall above his head.
“Shit,” he yelled and threw himself through the front door’s glass plating.  With a loud crack, it broke to bits under the impact of his body.  Quinn landed on his hands and knees on the lobby floor and began to crawl forward.  He rolled over as another bullet smashed into the wall beside him.  Hearing no more shots, he got into a crouch and ran to where a turn in the hallway put him outside the line of fire.
Viktor appeared in his doorway at the other end of the hallway.
“Stay back,” yelled Quinn.  “There’s some fucker out there with a gun.” 
Viktor retreated into his apartment, only to return with a pump action shotgun in his hand.  “I used this to go hunting back in the Ukraine.  Some scum wants to shoot up my building, I’ll give him back one better.”
Quinn listened for more gunfire but heard nothing.   “Too late, Viktor.  He’s already gone.  By now, he’s probably halfway to the subway.”
“Let him come back and he’ll see what he gets.”
“Damn it, Viktor, put the gun away before the cops get here.”

The plainclothes detective was sitting in Quinn’s apartment and listening intently as he finished telling her for the fourth time that he hadn’t seen anything.  She had arrived with Sloane shortly after the first uniform had made his appearance. Sloane had looked in on Quinn long enough to determine he was still in one piece and then had immediately gone back outside.  “There’s always chance the shooter might still be nearby,” he had explained.  He returned just as the detective, whose name was Bryans, finished her questioning.
“You sure you didn’t get a look at the gunman, not even a glimpse?” the detective asked again.  She was a stoutly built woman somewhere in her mid-forties.  Her hair had been dyed peroxide blonde and a gold tooth was prominently displayed where one of her own had gone missing in the front of her mouth.
“I told you, I had my back to the street when the first shot was fired.”
“You might as well give up,” Sloane advised Bryans.  “Even if this stubborn jerk had seen anything – and most likely he didn’t – he still wouldn’t give us the time of day.”
“There’s nothing to tell,” insisted Quinn.  “How many times do I have to say it before you believe me?”
“It’s your turn,” Bryans said to Sloane.  She slapped her notebook closed and put it in her purse.  “Maybe you can get something out of him.  I’ve had enough.  I’m going to get myself a coffee and head back downtown.”
“Listen, wise guy,” said Sloane after Bryans had left.  “You know why I left you with her while I went outside looking for the shooter?  It wasn’t because I was being brave.  No way.  It was because chasing after some crazy with a gun in his hand is a lot less trouble than dealing with you.  That’s why.”
“Yeah, well fuck you too.  If I hadn’t stooped down for my keys, the first bullet would have blown a hole in my head.  It was that close.”
“That might have been an improvement.” Sloane looked at what was left of Quinn’s cashmere sweater.  It had been ripped to shreds going through the glass doorframe.  “You were lucky.  All that happened this time was that you got your fancy new clothes wasted.  But I wouldn’t take any more chances if I were you.”
“What chances?  I was standing at my front door.”
“Cut the crap.  If you hadn’t been out playing detective, this never would have happened.  You brought it on yourself.”
 “At least I’ve managed to come up with the one lead we’ve got in this case.”
Sloane moved closer to Quinn.  “Are you talking about that mug you saw hanging around the building the other day?  Was it the same guy who was shooting at you just now?”
“I doubt it was him.   I don’t know what that lurker was up to, but if he was out to get me he could’ve taken his shot then.  No, I was talking about something else.”
“And what exactly is that?”  Sloane frowned.  “What’ve you been holding out on me?  I thought you had something up your sleeve when I came by the other night.”
“I found out I was right to think there was a connection between Behan and those DVD’s.  My hunch was on the money.”
“Unless you want me to haul your ass downtown, you better stop jerking me around and tell me right this minute what it is you’re talking about.”
“How hard did you question Ito when you talked to him?  Did you even take the time to look around his studio?  If you’d torn apart his place like you should’ve done, you’d have found he had a bunch of Behan’s photos stashed away.  I saw one of them hanging on the wall in plain sight when I paid him a visit.”
“How the hell was I going to look through his things?” Sloane demanded.  “I had no cause for a search warrant.  There was nothing to connect Ito to Behan.”
“There is now.  Those photos are the link you were looking for.”
“Damn,” muttered Sloane.  “That son of a bitch swore he’d never heard of Behan.”
“That was the line he tried to hand me too.”
Sloane slammed his fist against his palm.  “Just wait till I get that old guy down to the precinct.  I’ll sweat him till he tells me the truth.”
Quinn only laughed.  “Bullshit he will.  He’ll make up some story how he bought the photos at a flea market.” 
“The hell with that.  If he tries to lie his way out of it, he’ll really get me pissed.”
“What are you planning to do?  Beat him with a rubber hose?  You know as well as I do that his lawyers will have him out a half hour after you’ve brought him in.  He’ll just dummy up until they get there.”
This time Sloane waved his fist in front of Quinn’s face.  “One way of the other, he’ll tell me what he knows.”
“Relax.  You don’t even need the guy.  I already found what it is he’s hiding.” 
Sloane kept his fist in front of Quinn’s face.  “If you don’t stop playing these stupid games, you’re the one I’m going to use the rubber hose on.”
“What are you getting pissed at me for?”  Quinn put on an injured air.  “I practically solved your case for you.”
“Swell.  Why don’t I just lend you my cuffs and you can bring in the killer on your own?  Then I can take the rest of the day off and go home to the wife and kids in Queens.”
“Save the sarcasm.  Did you ever stop to wonder who was backing Ito and financing his kinky films?  I found one of his moneymen, most likely the main guy.  His name is Curwin.  He’s an investment analyst who just happens to be married to the woman Behan was in love with.  She was the model in the pics Ito was had in his studio.  And if that’s not enough for you, Curwin as much as admitted to me he’s licensed to carry.”
Sloane regarded Quinn thoughtfully.  “And how did you happen to find all this out?”
Quinn proceeded to tell Sloane the story of how he had followed Ito from his studio to Penelope’s address.  Then he related in detail his conversations with both the model and her husband.  “It’s all pretty simple,” he concluded.  “Behan collected the DVD’s of Ito’s films because he was concerned for Penelope’s safety.  Curwin found out what he was doing, probably from Penelope herself.  Besides being jealous as hell, he had too much at stake to have his connection to Ito’s yakuza friends revealed.  He already had a gun.  By killing Behan, Curwin saw his chance to not only get rid of someone he saw as a nuisance but also to silence him before he could tell what he knew.”
“You’ve got it all figured out, haven’t you?”
“Ten to one it was Curwin who shot at me just now.  In the end, you’ll find he used the same gun on me that he killed Behan with.”
“This all might make perfect sense to you,” cautioned Sloane, “but you’ve got to remember that it isn’t always the most plausible stories that that turn out to be true.”
“Give me a break.  You’re just upset that I figured it out ahead of you.”
“Hey, if it turns out to be the way you think, I’ll be the first to pin a medal on you.  You’ve got nothing to worry about there.”
“So what are you going to do now?”
“I’m going to have a long talk with Ito just like I said I would.  After that, I’ll speak with this guy Curwin and find out what his story is.  What else would I do?”
“Just let me know when you need me to testify at Curwin’s trial.”
Sloane stared at Quinn.  “You really want to see this guy go down, don’t you?”
“What do you expect?  First he killed my father and just now he tried to blow me away when I got too close to him.  You want me to send him a valentine?”
Sloane kept his eyes on Quinn.  “There’s more to it than that, though, isn’t there?  What’s between you and this Penelope woman?  Have you got the hots for her?”
“Now who’s playing detective?”
“Being a detective is my job.  Remember?”  Sloane prodded him with his fingertip.
“Not when it comes to my personal life it’s not.”
 “If there’s something going on between you and the wife, even if it’s only in your head, you’d have a clear field once her husband was sent up for murder, wouldn’t you?  Don’t try to pretend you haven’t thought of it yourself.”
“You’ve got a dirty mind, Sloane.  Anyone ever tell you that?”
“Sure.  My old lady complains about it every time we climb in the sack together.”
“Funny.  I’m almost shot to death and you’re telling jokes.”
“Look who’s talking.”  Sloane leaned closer to Quinn.  “If anyone around here is playing the joker, it’s you.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Don’t you remember me telling you to stay away from Lachner?”
Quinn shrugged.  “I only went by his place to ask about Behan.  And then later to get information on Curwin.  I didn’t let slip a word of what you told about the money laundering operation he’s supposed to be involved in.  How did you find out I was there anyway?”
“Surveillance caught you going in and coming out.  Twice.”
“The first time he stonewalled me.  Tried to pretend he’d hardly seen Behan in years.”
“Maybe he hadn’t at that.  You can’t expect a man in his position and with his money to be hanging out with someone like your father.  I don’t care how close they were in the good old days.  It’s not likely they’d have kept in close touch.”
“The second time I was there I tried to find out as much as I could about Curwin and his business dealings.  As soon as I mentioned that Curwin might be up to no good with Ito, Lachner practically had another heart attack.  He started talking about the damage I could do to Curwin’s career.  As if I gave a shit.”
“He had a point there,” Sloane observed.  “You’ve got no right making accusations against anyone when all you’ve got to go on are a bunch of half baked theories.  You’ve got to have proof, and plenty of it, before you even open your mouth.”
“If you ask me, Lachner’s the one who’s got something to hide.  He was nervous as hell the whole time I was there.  He’s sitting in his living room with the curtains drawn and with some parolee who looks like he was just let out of prison yesterday watching over him.  The man’s under pressure.  He’s going to crack soon.”
“He already did,” Sloane informed him.  “That’s what I was going to tell you.  Lachner went to the Feds on his own yesterday afternoon and offered to give evidence in exchange for immunity.  He’s ready to testify against everyone else involved.”
Quinn thought it over.  “Do you think the Feds will go for it?”
“I don’t see why not.  There’s not much point putting someone like that in prison.  He’s too old and in too poor health.  He’s not likely to live much longer as it is.”
“It’s fine by me if he gets a pass.”  Quinn gave a broad grin.  “I was beginning to feel sorry for the old guy.  I’m glad it’s all worked out.”
“Only if we can keep Lachner alive long enough to testify.  The people he was involved with in those shady transactions aren’t going to take very kindly to him spilling his guts on the witness stand.  Once he’s done talking, they’re finished.”
“I’m sure you can provide Lachner with all the security he needs.  You might want to start by getting rid of that parolee he’s got working there.  Name’s Chester.  He’s a bad one I tell you.  If there’s anyone you have to worry about, it’s that guy.”
Sloane stood up.  “Thanks.  I’ll bear it in mind.”

Later, Quinn spoke with Violeta.  She had stayed in the bedroom until Sloane had left.  “I think it might be safer for you if you found somewhere else to stay for the moment.”
“Why?” asked Violeta.  Her voice was anxious.  She’d been shaken by the gunfire she’d heard.  “Do you think someone might want to hurt me?”
“There’s no reason to think anyone’s after you,” Quinn reassured her, “but I wouldn’t want you to be caught in the middle if someone tries to take me out again.  Whoever the killer is, he’s getting more desperate by the day.”
Violeta put a hand on Quinn’s arm.  “I’m not only worried about myself.  I’m worried about you too, believe it or not.  Who do you think shot at you?”
“I just went through that with the police.  It had to be Curwin.  He’s the only one who has any reason to want me dead.  He’s insane with jealousy.  Behan was killed after he started seeing Penelope again.  Then I have lunch with her, and the next thing I know someone takes a shot at me.”
Violeta considered what she was being told.  “But if it were someone else who murdered Behan, then that person would also have a reason to kill you.  He might be scared he’ll be found out and arrested if you keep on with your search.”
“I’m not sure anyone else had a motive to kill Behan.  He kept to himself too much for anyone to even know he existed, let alone want to murder him.  My father was the most solitary person on the planet.  He never made any enemies that I’ve heard of.”
“Yes, none that you’ve heard of.  But maybe there was something else going on in his life that you don’t know anything about.”
“Such as?”
Violeta remained silent.
“The only thing that makes any sense is that after Behan had started seeing Penelope again, he found out about her husband’s involvement with Ito.  Behan was smart enough to realize something was up.  He figured out Curwin was conspiring with Ito to have Penelope participate in some nasty porn flick.  Seeing his wife raped on camera would probably have been a big turn on for Curwin.  That’s the real reason Behan had all those DVD’s.  He wasn’t into watching that trash; he was just doing research on Ito.  Maybe he confronted Ito, or maybe he went up against Curwin himself.  When Curwin found out Behan was seeing his wife and trying to interfere with his plans for her, he went crazy and killed the poor guy.”
“I cannot argue with any of that.  But you can’t be sure.   In New York City, murder sometimes just happens for no reason at all.”
“You and Sloane should get along great.  He doesn’t believe me either.”
There was a knock on the door.  When Violeta opened it, Mayla was standing there beside Viktor.   Mayla, a cigarette hanging loosely from her mouth, was holding a Tupperware container and an envelope while Viktor had a chessboard tucked under his arm.
“We came to cheer you up.”  Mayla held out the container.  “I brought you some chicken soup.”
“Chicken soup?  What the hell are you talking about?” demanded Quinn.  He was incredulous.  “I don’t have a cold.  Someone was shooting at me.”
“It doesn’t just have to be for a cold.  Chicken soup is the old New York remedy for whatever’s ailing you.  It’ll have you back on your feet in no time.”
“But I’m not off my feet to begin with.”  Quinn protested.
Mayla handed Quinn the envelope.  “And I brought you your mail.  I found this on the floor in the lobby after all the excitement was over.”
Quinn took the envelope and opened it.  “Shit,” he said.  “I don’t believe this.”
“Why?  What is it?” asked Mayla.
“It’s from the Food Stamp program.  They got back to me already.”
“Great.  Now you can afford to get your own food, and you won’t have to depend on Violeta bringing you a doggie bag.”
“The hell I won’t.  According to this, all I’m getting is a lousy $15 a month.  How am I supposed to live on that?”
“You’re lucky you don’t cook,” said Viktor.  “In this town, $15 won’t buy you enough food to make yourself dinner.”
“This isn’t a benefit.”  Quinn tore up the notice.  “It’s a fucking insult.”
“Oh, stop complaining,” said Violeta.  “My agency has a refrigerator filled with food for whenever we models stop by.  I am happy to bring you as much as you want to eat.  And Mayla has made you delicious chicken soup.  Don’t you see?  There’s nothing to worry about as long as you have friends.”
Mayla and Violeta beamed at one another while Viktor set up the chessboard on the table.  “When you’re recovered, we can have a game.  You can have either black or white.”
“Recovered from what?  The guy missed me.”
 “Next time he comes,” said Viktor, “I’ll have my shotgun ready for him.”
“This is Manhattan, Viktor, not the Crimean steppes.”
“That gun shoots just as good here as it did back home, believe me.”
“Has everyone gone crazy?” asked Quinn.  “Mayla, won’t you try to talk some sense into Violeta?  I’ve been trying to explain that it’s too dangerous for her to stay here with a killer running around loose.  Maybe she could put up at your place for a few days.  She’d be out of harm’s way there at least.”
Mayla looked at Violeta.  “It doesn’t look to me like Violeta needs anyone looking out for her.  She’d probably be more of a match for a guy with a gun than you were.”
“Thanks,” said Quinn.
“Oh, you know you’re my hero.  I’m just glad you’re still alive.”
“Me too,” said Violeta and Viktor together.
“You’re all nuts,” said Quinn, but he was laughing.  “Next time I’ll let the guy shoot me.  At least I’ll get some peace when they take me to the hospital.”
“Don’t even joke about it,” said Mayla.  She lit another cigarette and then turned to wink at Violeta and Viktor.  “You two leave us by ourselves for a while so I can feed him his chicken soup and do whatever else he needs to make him feel better.”
“It’s a good thing I know you’re joking, or I’d be afraid to be alone here with you.”

“You seem much calmer now,” said Viktor, hours later, “I think Mayla has a good influence on you.”  He watched as Quinn, his face a mask of concentration, leaned over the chessboard to take his rook with a bishop.
“You and she make such a sweet couple,” Violeta called from the couch where she was flipping the pages of an oversize photo book she’d pulled from a shelf.  It was one of those Behan had purchased from Viktor in the days when he was still selling art books.
“I was worried about you earlier when you started laughing,” Viktor continued, “I thought maybe you’d gotten hysterical from being shot at.”

“I was laughing at the craziness of it all.  If anything shows how totally absurd life is, it’s having it almost ended by a bullet shot by no one knows who.”  Quinn turned towards Violeta who was still absorbed in her book.  “It’s like The Naked City, that book of Weegee’s you’ve got in your hand.  Those crime photos show perfectly how sudden and senseless death can be here in New York.  Ito was right when he said that it’s the impersonality of violent death that makes it so frightening.”

Monday, May 7, 2018

Fine Art Effects with Corel Painter: One Example

When shooting flowers, I usually prefer straight photography with only selected tonal adjustments.  Flowers, after all, possess enough beauty of their own that their photographs generally appear best with only minimal post processing.  In some cases, however, a painterly effect can enhance their appearance.  Aside from the use of Photoshop plug-in filters, this can be accomplished by processing the photo in Corel Painter 12.

To achieve the above photo, I first started with the straight photo below to which only slight tonal adjustments had already been applied in Photoshop.

I then opened the above photo in Painter, and after having chosen Quick Clone from the File menu, picked Smeary Camel Cloner.  I then ran Auto Paint, making sure to choose Image as the clone source.  After ten minutes, I had the photo shown below.

This photo was much too "arty" for my taste, so I returned to Photoshop and opened both it and the original image.  Choosing the heavily retouched photo from Painter, I selected Apply Image from the Image menu.   I applied the straight image to the retouched image at 70% with Pin Light selected as the blend mode.  That gave me the photo shown at the top of this post which, I feel, has a slight painterly effect but nothing so pronounced as to be objectionable.  What constitutes such states as "arty" and "ojbectionable" are, of course, a matter of personal taste and some photographers might opt to apply the original image to a greater or lesser extent and might find different blend modes more suitable for their purposes.  It's largely a matter of trial and error.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Faces at the 2018 Easter Parade (4 of 4)

All photos were shot on a Lumix GH4 with a 14-140 lens (equivalent to 28-280). For the black & white conversions I used Nik Silver Efex Pro 2.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

The Dark Veil: Chapter Sixteen

“I hope you didn’t mind meeting for lunch on such short notice,” said Penelope.  “I wanted to make sure you understood that I wasn’t the one who told Cecil you’d been to our apartment.  It was Fred who mentioned it to him.  He must have called Cecil as soon as you and I had gone upstairs together.”
“Good old Fred, the faithful doorman.  He saw a chance to get back at me and score points with your husband at the same time.  I bet he’s already counting the big holiday tip he’s going to collect.”
“That might have been part of it, but Fred would have told my husband anyway.  He gossips shamelessly about everyone who lives in the building.”
“That’s one reason I never lived in a doorman building.”  Quinn anticipated Penelope’s next question.  “The other reason is that I could never afford an apartment in one of those places to begin with.”
Penelope rolled her eyes.  ”At any rate,” she continued, “I didn’t think it was a good idea to have you back at the apartment.  Cecil was incredibly upset after having met with you at his office.  He was nearly incoherent when he tried to tell me what had happened.  He claimed you were a radical who had no understanding of our capitalist society.”
“That meeting was his idea, not mine, though I definitely would’ve gotten around to talking to him sooner or later.”  Quinn paused before adding, “And no, I don’t mind the short notice.  I was surprised when I got your message, but it was ok.”
“You were glad that I called then?”  A tentative smile lit up Penelope’s face.
Quinn didn’t respond at once.  He took a look around the crowded restaurant and then took a bite of the pan-seared duck breast he’d ordered.  “Yes, I was.  I was hoping you had something more to tell me about Behan.”
The smile vanished.  Penelope plucked the fork from Quinn’s hand and threw it down.  “You didn’t seem that interested in my memories of Behan when you attacked me.”
“Was that what I did?”
“Some people would call it that.”  Penelope took a sip of tea.  “But I didn’t meet you here to argue.  As far as Behan is concerned, I really do wish that there were something more I could tell you, but I honestly don’t have any idea who could have killed him.”
“You dropped out of his life for a couple of years while you found yourself a rich husband.  Whatever possessed you to get in touch with him once you were back in New York?  Wasn’t breaking his heart once enough?  Did you want another look to see what a good job you’d done, to find out if he were still suffering?”
“Poor Behan.  I never meant to hurt him.  You’ve got to believe that.  I never guessed how deeply he’d fallen in love with me until it was too late.”
Quinn looked at her sharply.  “You were pretty hard on him when you did find out.  I don’t know exactly what it was, but you once said something to him so cruel that it broke the poor guy’s heart.  How could you have done that to an old man?”
Penelope almost dropped the cup she held in her hand.  Tea sloshed into the saucer.  “How did you find out about that?  What did Behan tell you?”
Quinn’s face was a mask.  “He never told me anything.  I was just guessing.”
“How did you find out?” Penelope repeated.  She used a napkin to mop up the spilled tea.  A waiter came hurrying to help.  “What I said wasn’t anything I thought so terrible.  I hadn’t any idea it would bother him so much.  I’d do anything to be able to take it back.”  She stared defiantly at Quinn.  “You can believe that, or not.”
Quinn drew in his breath.  “I’m sorry.  I wasn’t deliberately trying to upset you.”
“Then why say things you know will hurt me?”
 “Maybe I’m just embarrassed by the way I acted when I was at your apartment.  At first, I thought Behan was a fool to have fallen for you.  But that was before I saw you myself.  Now I understand.  Behan was lost the minute he first laid eyes on you.  He couldn’t have helped himself any more than I can now.” 
Penelope had been studying Quinn’s appearance.  “You look very nice when you dress up.  It makes you much more attractive to women.”
“Thanks, I guess.  The suit’s an old one though.  I found it hanging in Behan’s closet and decided to try it on for laughs.”
“Yes, I know it was his.  I’m the one who gave it to him.  Behan wanted so badly to look his best when he was with me that I did what I could to help.  He certainly tried hard – I’ll give him that much – but you wear those clothes much better than he did.”
Realization dawned on Quinn.  “Oh, so that’s why your husband thought the suit looked familiar.  You know, he actually tried to find out if we shared the same tailor.”
Penelope giggled.  “I had told Cecil I was giving his old clothes to the Salvation Army.  He never had any idea what I really did with them.  And where was the harm anyway?  Behan never owned anything that wouldn’t have shamed a homeless person.”
Quinn took Penelope’s hand.  “It was good of you to have been so considerate.”
Penelope’s face colored.  “It wasn’t anything much.”
“Maybe not, but I’m ashamed to say it’s more than I ever did for Behan myself.”
“Actually, I think it’s wonderful that you show so much feeling for my old friend.”  She allowed her hand to remain in his.  “You really cared a great deal for Behan, didn’t you?” 
“You could say that.”  Quinn leaned closer toward her.  “He was my father.”
“Behan?  Your father?”  For a moment Penelope appeared unable to take in what he was telling her.
“That’s right,” Quinn replied evenly.  “He and I were family.”
Penelope took her hand from Quinn’s and looked at him in astonishment.  “No wonder then you’re so anxious to find his killer.  I couldn’t understand what was driving you and making you so relentless.”
“Now you know.”  Quinn picked up his fork and took another bite of duck.  “I guess I’m trying to make up for all the years I didn’t have anything to do with Behan.  It’s no good though.  Even if I do find whoever murdered him, it’s still not going to make things right.”
Penelope ate some of her grilled swordfish while thinking over what Quinn had told her.  “You shouldn’t blame yourself if you didn’t stay close to him.  I could have been kinder myself.  I often wish I’d told him how dear he was to me.  But I’ll never have that chance.”
Quinn glanced around him.  “This restaurant used to have a different name.   I took Behan here for lunch once on his birthday.  I was just out of college and wanted to impress him.  It was expensive then too, but much more conservative.  Retired professionals living on Central Park West would come here for dinner every week while they were waiting to die.  Now it’s where the executives from ABC have their power lunches.  I hadn’t realized that when I made the reservations.  This probably wasn’t a very good choice for a quiet talk.”
“Oh, I like it here.  Those murals of nymphs are so retro.  They create an atmosphere of old New York, or at least what I want to think the city was once like.”
“They weren’t quite so retro when they were painted back in the 1930’s.  The artist who did them lived upstairs.  I guess he got free meals in exchange.  Not all the paintings are still here though.”
“I’m glad at least some of them remain.”
“What’s the real reason you wanted to have lunch with me?” Quinn asked.  “I know it wasn’t to tell me how your husband found out that I’d met with you.”
A blush crept over Penelope’s features and made her appear even more beautiful than before.  “If you want the truth, it was because I had to see you again.  I couldn’t get out of my mind the way you’d held me and kissed me.”
“You’re due an apology for that.”
“I don’t want any apology.  I liked it when you kissed me.”
 Quinn was overpowered by the memory.  “I couldn’t help myself.  I’ve never seen anyone half so gorgeous as you.  No wonder Behan thought of you as his muse.”
Penelope toyed with her food.  “When I was younger, everyone told me how beautiful I was.   I thought if I could become a supermodel then I would be able to give my parents something back for all they’d done for me.  I didn’t grow tall enough though.  Luckily, now that I’ve married Cecil, I’m able to send my parents something every month, much more than I could have afforded otherwise.”
“Where are they located?  Here in the city?”
“No, they’re out in New Jersey.  They moved to this country when I was still a child.  In 1917, at the time of the Revolution, my father’s family fled from Moscow to Shanghai along with a great many other White Russian emigres.  It was only supposed to have been a temporary stopover, but they stayed on in China right through the Japanese invasion.  It was only during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960’s that my father was forced to leave.  By then, he’d married my Chinese mother.  They were lucky to have gotten out.  Together they relocated to Switzerland where I was born and then finally made it here to the US.”
“It must have been rough on them,” Quinn sympathized.
“They’re such good people, but they’ve never had anything to call their own.  They run a dry cleaning shop now.  With their university education and appreciation of the arts, it must seem a bad joke to them when they go to work there every morning.  Still, no matter how hard they had to struggle, they did everything they could for me.  They sacrificed to send me to private schools so that I’d have the best upbringing available.”
Quinn glanced at the Dolce & Gabbana tulle sheath dress she wore.  “It must have been difficult for you to grow up poor, always seeing your friends and classmates wearing the newest fashions when you knew you’d have looked so much better in them yourself.”
“That wasn’t important to me.  Not then anyway.  Now, of course, it’s certainly nice to be able to go to Saks or Bergdorf’s whenever I like to pick out a new outfit or to try on a pair of Louboutin shoes.  It’s a diversion for me.”
“A diversion from what?”
“From marriage.  Isn’t that what you were hoping I’d say?”
“Is that why you went back to see Behan after you’d gotten married?  As a diversion?  You didn’t need him once you were married.  He certainly could never have afforded to buy you the clothes you’re wearing now.”
“You won’t believe this, but I got back in touch with Behan because he was the only one who ever showed me true kindness.   I knew perfectly well it was heartless to go on seeing him.  I knew it would hurt him to see me married.  But I was so lonely that I didn’t care.”
“Lonely?  What about your husband?  Wasn’t he ever around.”
“Cecil is in his office twelve hours a day.  He’s a workaholic who’s never home.”  Penelope poured herself another cup of tea.  “But that’s partly my fault.  He was in love with me too when we first met.  I never tried to lead him on, or make him think I cared more for him than I did.  Even so, he was devastated when he discovered that it was only for the security he provided that I’d married him.  Once he found out, he never made love to me again.”  She cast her eyes down at the tabletop.  “It seems sometimes that all I do is hurt people.”
When the check came, Quinn reached for it.
“No,” said Penelope.  She selected a credit card from the stack in her wallet and handed it to the waiter.  “I’m the one who invited you to lunch.  It’s only fair to let me pay.”
Quinn watched as Penelope signed the receipt and put the card back with the others.  “It’s as though your husband’s money has made you feel guilty.  You sold yourself for it, and now you have to spend it.”
“That’s a terrible thing to say.”
“That doesn’t make it untrue.”
“You don’t think much of me, do you?” asked Penelope.
“No, I don’t,” Quinn admitted.  “But who am I to judge?  Here I am chasing after a married woman and carrying on over her as though I were a schoolboy.”
Penelope pulled her sweater tighter about her shoulders.  “Will I see you again?” she asked.
“Probably, though I’m not sure what will come of it.”  Quinn reached again for Penelope’s hand. 
They rose to leave.  “I’ll be taking a taxi across town.”  Penelope said.  “Is there somewhere I can drop you first?”
“No.  I’d rather walk.  I’m still getting used to being back in Manhattan.”
“You really love this city, don’t you?  I can tell from the way you talk about it.”
“I don’t why,” Quinn replied.  “New York’s nothing but a cruel hearted bitch that never shed a tear over anyone.  My father lived his whole life here and all he got in return was to die friendless and alone.”
“Then why do you want to stay here?  Why not go back to San Francisco?”
“This is my real home.  All the time I was away I thought about coming back here.  This city got hold of me when I was just a kid and never let go.  Maybe it made me cold and hard edged, but I wouldn’t want to be any different.”
Penelope slipped her hand through Quinn’s arm and squeezed it gently.  “You act that way, but inside you’re just as sad and alone as Behan was.  It’s as though both of you carried around some deep pain you wanted to keep hidden.”
“You’re pretty perceptive, aren’t you?”
“Maybe it’s because it’s the same for me.”
Quinn pulled Penelope closer to him.  “Sometimes I think that’s the way it is for everyone in this city.  We’ve all lost our way.”  He kissed her on the lips.

A half hour later, Quinn found himself walking up Columbus on the way back to his apartment.  When he’d gotten as far as 75th Street, he found the entire corner filled with television lights and crowds of police and reporters.  A patrol car was pulled up at the curb to prevent any vehicles from turning onto the block.
“What’s going on?” Quinn asked a man who was standing quietly nearby and looking slightly dazed. 
“They say a nanny stabbed two little kids to death up there.”
Quinn followed the man’s gaze to an upper floor of the building opposite.   He noticed the television cameras had been trained on the same spot.
“Can you believe something like that could happen here?” the man asked.
“Yeah, sure,” said Quinn.  “I can believe it pretty easily.”

The man kept staring at the upper floor where camera flashes could still be seen as the police took their crime scene photos.  He didn’t act as though he’d heard what Quinn had said.