Quinn was idly examining the Tiltall tripod in Shaley’s studio while waiting for the photographer to finish a phone call. As he handled the tripod, Quinn noticed that his fingers were smudged with dust where they had touched its metal surface.
Shaley eventually ended the call and turned to see how his visitor was occupying himself. “Be careful with that,” he warned when he saw Quinn still holding the tripod. “It’s the old Leitz model. The center post slides right out. Watch you don’t drop it.”
Quinn slid the post up and down. “Yes, I remember that much from when I owned one myself. It’s solid metal. A bit heavy maybe, but strong and durable.”
“That’s why I’ve kept it all these years. It’s perfect for studio use.”
Quinn placed the tripod upright on the floor. “I keep worrying I’m going to interrupt you in the middle of a shoot the way I keep barging in here. But I’ve yet to see you yet with a camera in your hand. How do you manage to take it so easy and still pay for all this?”
Shaley shot Quinn a reproving look. “I don’t ask how you make your rent, do I? How I schedule my shoots and handle my workload is my business.”
“All the equipment’s in the same place it was last time,” Quinn continued. “Nothing’s been touched. You can’t blame me for being curious how you manage to pull it off.”
“I wish I could tell you I was so successful I didn’t have to work as hard as I once did. But that’s not it.” Shaley pointed to a prescription container on the desk beside him. “The truth is that I’ve been having health problems – palpitations of the heart, according to my doctor – and have had to start easing back whether I like it or not.” Shaley didn’t want to talk more about it. “What brings you here today? Not that I’m not happy to see you again.”
Quinn got to the point. “Detective Sloane updated me when I went to visit him yesterday. It was a pretty disturbing experience. I discovered I’d been on the wrong track all along. Every single thing I thought I knew about Curwin and Ito turned out to be false.”
Shaley didn’t appear particularly concerned. “We can’t be right about everything all the time,” was all he said. Discussing his health problems had darkened his mood.
“Yes, but I couldn’t figure how I could have been so totally off base as I was here,” Quinn persisted. He moved opposite Shaley’s desk and sat down facing him. “When I tried to go back in my mind to see how I’d screwed up so badly, I kept coming back to our last conversation. It was you who first mentioned to me Ito’s connection to the yakuza. Now I find out it’s not true. He never had any actual involvement with them at all.”
“Hey,” Shaley objected. “What I told you is common knowledge. There are thousands of fan websites for Japanese movies on the web. You can go to any one of them and read there how deep Ito is in with the mob. I didn’t come up with any of that on my own.”
“I know you didn’t. I did a search online and saw the same shit wherever I went. It was even mentioned in Ito’s Wikipedia biography.”
“There you go then.” Shaley’s tone was complacent.
“But how did you come up with the bit about the Wall Street investors who were financing him? Who told you about that? Or were you just making a lucky guess?”
“If there was any speculation on my part, it doesn’t make a difference now, does it?” Shaley was tired of being questioned. “The bottom line is that what I told you was true.”
“But you were the one who tied the investors in with the yakuza. When I learned of Curwin’s involvement, I figured he must have been cutting deals with the mob himself.”
“I said at the time it was only a rumor I’d heard, and from less than reliable sources at that. I can’t help it if you got carried away and decided to follow it up on your own.” Shaley gave Quinn a hard look. “You know what I think is happening here? You messed up big time making reckless accusations, and now you’re looking for someone to pin the blame on. Well, it’s not me. You pumped me for information and ended up hearing what you wanted to hear. I certainly can’t help it if you’ve got an overactive imagination.”
“I’m just trying to figure out what happened,” Quinn insisted.
“Bullshit,” said Shaley. “You’re just trying to cover your ass. That’s what you’re doing. And I’m damned if I’m going to let you make me into a scapegoat.”
“But nothing,” Shaley fairly shouted. He pointed to the door. “It’s time for you to leave and not come back till you’ve got your head on straight. Do I make myself clear?”
“Perfectly,” said Quinn as he rose from his seat. “Sorry for taking up your time.”
Later that evening, Quinn sat in his apartment recounting to Mayla all that had been said at his meetings with Sloane and Shaley.
“Shaley didn’t act very well,” was Mayla’s only observation.
“No, I realize that. He was being an SOB, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t right. It really is my fault I jumped the gun the way I did. I let my feelings for Penelope get in the way of my judgment. I wanted her husband to be guilty.”
“You were just trying to find your father’s killer. No one can blame you for that.”
“I don’t know,” replied Quinn. “Sloane warned me to stay away from the case and let the police handle it, but I was too stubborn to listen. I thought they were taking too long and that I could do in a day what they hadn’t been able to accomplish in weeks. That was just my ego leading me on. Sloane was right all along when he told me I was no detective. I should have paid more attention to him and used my common sense.”
“I don’t want to make you feel any worse than you do now,” said Mayla as she exhaled a stream of cigarette smoke, “but you might want to take a look at today’s paper if you haven’t already seen the headline.” She reached into her tote bag and pulled out a copy of the city’s biggest selling tabloid. Across the top of the front page, in the largest type size available, the heading screamed “Yakuza Take Over Wall Street!”
“Oh, no,” Quinn moaned. “Tell me this isn’t about Curwin.”
“Sorry. They not only identified him by name, but they also included his whole biography going back to his high school days. There’s even a wedding photo showing him with Penelope on the big day. Further back, in the Business section, they have another article that details how he took his company to the top. Curwin certainly was a high roller, wasn’t he? I was impressed.”
“That’s it then. He’s finished.” Quinn didn’t bother to take the paper Mayla held out to him. “I don’t even need to see it to know that much.”
Mayla put the paper down. “You can check it out later if you want. They also have an article on Lachner, that friend of your father’s you told me about who’s getting ready to testify. And there’s an editorial, of course, calling for an end to such corruption.”
“I don’t care so much about Lachner,” Quinn pointed out. “He was going down anyway once the Feds had made their case and finished gathering evidence. I have no sympathy for him. Curwin’s a different story though. As far as I know, he never did anything wrong. I ended up destroying an innocent man’s life for no reason at all.”
“You didn’t set out to hurt him,” Mayla reminded him. “It just happened that way.”
But Quinn couldn’t accept that. “I don’t know why I wasn’t able to see straight. Instead, I couldn’t make out what was right there in front of me. It was like someone was holding a dark veil over my eyes that obscured and distorted everything I saw. I didn’t know what was real and what was only in my imagination. I can’t understand how I could have been so completely mistaken about everything.”
“There’s no point sitting here feeling sorry for yourself. It’s over now. Things could still work out for Curwin. Even if he loses his business, there’s no reason he can’t start over, is there? I’m sure he’s got millions socked away by now.”
“That doesn’t matter. Once his business goes bust, his investors will hound him with litigation for the rest of his life. And no one on the Street will ever trust him again. When it’s all over, Curwin will be lucky to get a job waiting tables.”
“Don’t think about it, Quinn. You’re only going to make yourself more upset.”
“You don’t understand. How can I not think about it when I’m the one who set all this in motion? I can’t imagine what this guy must think of me for having done all this to him. I could never look him in the eye again if my life depended on it.”
Mayla lit another cigarette. “I wonder if his wife will stick with him. If Penelope only married him for his money, then she’ll probably catch the next bus out of town.”
“I don’t know what’s going to happen there,” Quinn confessed. “The only thing I’m sure of is that she’ll never forgive me for what I’ve done. I’ve messed her life up just as much as I have her husband’s.”
“You wanted her to leave him anyway, didn’t you?” Mayla asked.
“Not that way I didn’t. And who was I to break up a marriage in the first place? If I’d stayed away, they could have kept living their lives together just as they’d been doing. They had everything going for them and now, thanks to me, they’ve got nothing.”
“Maybe in the long run it’s for the best. There’s nothing stopping Penelope now from going off with you. I’m sure you can make her happier than her husband ever did.”
Quinn looked at his neighbor in disbelief. “I could never have any sort of relationship with Penelope after this. I’m sure she must hate me, and even if she didn’t I’d be consumed by guilt every time I looked at her. What would she and I have to look forward to?”
“You’ve got to stop being so hard on yourself. That’s not going to do anyone any good. You know that. You’ve got to pull yourself together and try to work things out.”
Quinn could only shake his head. “Come on,” he said, “I’ll walk you to your door.”
When they arrived at her apartment Mayla tried to distract Quinn from his misery by pointing out to him a rusted patch soldered onto the metal of her front door. “That’s to cover a bullet hole,” she said. “Behan was the one who told me about it.”
Quinn snapped out of his reverie long enough to put his hand on the door. “It must make a great conversation piece when you’re entertaining visitors. How did it get there?”
“According to Behan there was another actress living in my apartment back in 1980. Her name was Ellen, he said, and I gathered she was part of a small time song and dance act. Behan told me he went once to watch her perform at the Copa in the days when it was still at its old location on East 60th Street. He wasn’t too impressed by what he saw.”
“Oh no, not another failed romance for poor Behan. What did this Ellen look like?”
“Behan never described her in detail. The only thing he mentioned was that she was a brunette with bobbed hair. I asked if she were pretty, but all he said was ‘sort of,’ so I really don’t know. I’m not sure he had any romantic interest in her to begin with.”
“And she was the one who was shot?”
Mayla shook her head. “No, it was her boyfriend who was killed.”
“Ok, I can see I’m in for it. Go ahead and give me the grisly details.”
“You know how we show business people are – we don’t always have the best judgment. It seems while she was living here Ellen took up with a drug dealer who’d been in prison in some South American banana republic. Afterwards, he and his wife made it across the border and rented an apartment here in the neighborhood. That’s when Ellen met him.”
“I get it. Another immigrant out to win fame and fortune in the big city.”
“He also rented out a store on Amsterdam Avenue as a front, put a few dusty pocketbooks in the window and used the place to deal. Behan told me how it cracked him up to watch a bunch of junkies nodding out in front of a handbag store every morning while waiting to score. He said they didn’t look the type to be much interested in a woman’s accessories unless they were planning on snatching her purse.”
Quinn was listening more closely now. “The cops must have caught on, no?”
“Oh, or course they knew about it. But it was a different neighborhood then. Once a friend of mine wandered mistakenly into a thrift shop on 82nd Street without knowing it was a drop off for numbers runners. She asked if they had any used dresses for sale, and the two creeps behind the counter cursed her out big time and then hustled her onto the street.
“Anyway, things started to get really hairy when the dealer – Behan never even learned his name – started pushing coke and smack out of Ellen’s apartment after the handbag store shut down. Seems the neighbors got really freaked finding junkies shooting up in the stairwell at two in the morning. They wanted him out and Ellen along with him.”
“They probably didn’t get anywhere, though, did they?” asked Quinn. “It’s not that easy getting someone out of a rent stabilized apartment no matter what shit he’s pulling.”
“In the end, they didn’t have to. Seems the dealer’s wife finally got wind of what was going on between the two lovebirds and didn’t take kindly to her husband romancing Ellen.
“One night, as the dealer was coming up the stairs, the wife’s nephew was waiting, gun in hand, on the landing above. I don’t know if he said anything to the dealer or just started shooting, but when it was all over the dealer was lying dead in the hallway with one bullet in his crotch and two more in his chest. He never had a chance.
“The cops arrived after everyone in the building had called 911, and they eventually got around to knocking on Behan’s door. They wanted to know if he’d ever seen the dealer around the building. When Behan, trying to be vague and wanting stay out of it, said he wasn’t sure, the detectives asked him to come down to my floor to see if the corpse looked familiar. They were hoping he could save them some time by giving them a positive ID.
“Behan said when he got there the corpse had already been dragged from its original position, and what was left of the guy’s balls had left a big smear of blood on the hallway carpet. The cops looked at Behan and waited to see how he’d react. ‘People look different when they’re dead,’ Behan told them. By then, he just wanted to get it done with and go back to bed. ‘But yeah, that’s the guy. He’s wearing the same clothes I saw him in last.’”
“And that was the end of it?” Quinn asked.
“It should’ve been, right? But then things took a funny turn.”
“How could it have gotten any weirder than it already was?”
“Another neighbor, this one a prissy dance teacher from Boston who was always giving Behan dirty looks when she caught him smoking grass in the hallway, rang his bell and asked him to chip in $20 to help clean up the mess the dealer’s bloodstains had left on the hallway carpet. Behan gave her a few bucks to get rid of her, but it didn’t do any good. The teacher brought in a company that was supposed to specialize in disaster cleanups. She found them in the Yellow Pages of all places. Even those guys weren’t able to get the stains out, though, so they ended up just pouring some bleach over them.”
“What happened to Ellen?”
“She got more and more screwed up on coke and eventually took up with one of the late dealer’s friends so she’d have a source of supply. By then she was probably on the needle herself. Finally, she and her new boyfriend moved out of the building. ‘Good riddance,’ Behan said, ‘Believe me when I tell you no one was sad to see that pair leave.’”
Quinn whistled softly. “That’s some fucking story all right. People forget sometimes how rough this neighborhood once was.”
“Underneath, some of it’s still that way,” Mayla said. “You just have to look harder to see it.”