Wednesday, May 30, 2018

The Dark Veil: Chapter Twenty

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.”

Monday, May 28, 2018

Reflection in a Puddle

Walking with a camera on a rainy day in New York City and capturing in a puddle a reflection of the Upper West Side skyline near 77th Street and Central Park West.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Dark Veil: Chapter Nineteen

Quinn arrived unannounced at Sloane’s office early the next afternoon.  He found the detective once again eating lunch amid the piles of paper thrown about his desk.  Not much had changed since Quinn’s last visit.  If anything, the mess had grown larger.
“Nice to see you,” remarked Sloane as he wolfed down his pastrami & corned beef on rye.  A stream of mustard leaked from it onto the front of his polka dot shirt.  “I was beginning to think I was finally going to have enough peace and quiet to get some work done.”
“No reason to break with tradition after all this time.” Quinn was only half joking.  “Just keep going the way you always have and the crimes will solve themselves.”
Sloane gave him a lopsided smile and then picked up his strawberry milkshake and drank half of it in a single chug.  “Why waste your humor on me?  There are half a dozen comedy clubs nearby whose audiences would pay good money to watch you perform.”
“If you keep stuffing your face like that you won’t live long enough to join them.”  Quinn recoiled as Sloane took another huge bite of his sandwich.
Sloane didn’t bother to respond.  “Believe it or not, I’m actually glad you showed up.  Saves me the trouble of calling you and telling you what I’ve learned.”
Quinn was instantly attentive.  “Don’t tell me you finally discovered something.  It’s about time.”
Sloane pushed his lunch aside and picked up a report from his desk.  “You’ll be happy to know that the building manager on 33rd Street got back yesterday from his extended Caribbean holiday.  Turns out he took off for a fling with his secretary while his wife was out of town.  What a trip to paradise that ended up being.  He was only supposed to have been gone for a week, but while he’s sitting on the beach drinking a mojito and holding hands with this Bronx Latina young enough to be his daughter, he gets bit by a mosquito.  No big deal, right?  The next thing he knows he’s in a hospital bed being treated for chikungunya.”
Quinn regarded Sloane askance.  “You’re kidding me, aren’t you?  There can’t really be any such disease.”
“Check it out for yourself if you don’t believe me.  There are stories all over the news of Americans falling sick after having been bitten on their sun filled vacations.  The virus doesn’t usually kill, but it’s nasty enough all the same.”
“Ok, ok.  I’ll take your word for it.”
“Anyway, the manager was back on his feet by the time I talked to him and was able to confirm that there had been construction going on in the building during the time he was away.  Those bricks that almost clobbered you fell from a windowsill where some mentally deficient masonry worker had left them before knocking off for the day.”  Sloane looked Quinn in the eye.  “No one was trying to kill you.  It was an accident.  You were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Nothing more than that.”
For a second Quinn was at a loss for words.  His face fell as he realized the implications of what he was hearing.  “You mean it wasn’t deliberate?” he finally asked.
“That’s what I’m trying to tell you.”  Sloane finished what was left of his sandwich.  “There wasn’t anyone in the building at the time it happened.  We also talked to the night watchman when he came on shift.  He finally admitted that he’d decided his boss shouldn’t have all the fun – he probably wanted a piece of that secretary himself – and was down the block at the strip club having himself a lap dance when the bricks came tumbling down.  Hadn’t the slightest idea anything had happened while he’d been away.  He probably had so much to drink he wouldn’t have noticed if those bricks had landed on his own head.”
“So that’s that then?”
“We turned the matter over to the Buildings Department.  The owner has a history of employing non-union workers and of doing repairs without getting the proper permits.  They’ll hit him with a fine, all right, but that will most likely be the end of it.  I don’t think you have much chance for a lawsuit since you weren’t injured and didn’t take the time to report what had happened.”
“I wasn’t planning to sue anybody,” said Quinn.  He was still trying to take in what he’d been told.
“And that’s not the only thing,” Sloane went on.
 “Isn’t that enough?  What else did you come up with?”
“One Stanislas Kubinski is what.  Unemployed pipe welder who’s been living in the country illegally for the past three years.  He’s currently residing with his wife and five kids in Glen Oaks near the Nassau County line.”
“What about him?”  Quinn searched his memory.  “I never heard of the guy.”
“Mr. Kubinski has a drinking problem.  Of course, if I were unemployed and had a wife and five kids to support I’d probably be hitting the sauce myself.”
Quinn tried to check his impatience.  “Are you going anywhere with this, or are you just having fun jerking me around?”
“Mr. Kubinski has a bad habit of getting behind the wheel when he’s been drinking.  The car he drives belongs to his father-in-law.  It’s a black SUV with tinted windows.”
Quinn saw then where Sloane was headed.  “Just like the one that tried to run me and Violeta down in Chelsea.  Right?”
“You catch on quick, don’t you?  The plate number begins with ‘JZY’ just as your roommate said it did.”
Quinn began pacing the width of Sloane’s tiny office.  “So you’re saying that was an accident too.  Is that it?  Just a drunk driver out for a joyride?”
“Kubinski’s been charged before for the same offense.  Pleaded guilty three times to DWI, but for some reason he’s still got his license.  Can you beat that?  Your friend Violeta did a good thing letting us know about him.  Sooner or later that putz would have killed someone.  As it was, he smashed up a whole line of parked cars last month on West 16th Street while he was trying to find himself an empty space.”
“What happens to him now?”
“After his next court appearance, he and his family get turned over to ICE.  They’ll be on their way back to Warsaw soon enough.”
Quinn sat down heavily on the chair opposite Sloane’s desk.  “I can’t believe it.  I was so sure there was someone after me.”
“There is,” Sloane reminded him.  “That shot that was fired at you outside your building was no accident.  Someone was either trying to warn you or to kill you.  The other two ‘attempts’ may have been nothing but figments of your overactive imagination, but not that one.  This is no time to let your guard down.”
 Quinn ignored the advice.  “What I really came by for was to find out what happened when you questioned Curwin about his connection with Ito.  Did you get anywhere with him?  Or did he just tell you to wait until he had his lawyer present?”
Sloane frowned.  “No.  Curwin didn’t need any lawyer.  That’s because he wasn’t the one who killed Behan.  He can account for his whereabouts at the time of the murder.”
Quinn was dubious.  “Are you sure his alibi is for real?”
“Did you ever see the picture Curwin’s got in his office of him shaking hands with the mayor?  That was taken at a benefit for retired firefighters held the same evening Behan was killed.  The party went on until two in the morning.  So unless you want me to arrest the mayor as an accomplice to murder, you’re going to have to come up with another suspect.”
But Quinn wasn’t ready to give up yet.  “I’m pretty sure the next thing you’re going to tell me is that Ito’s in the clear too.”
“He was working late in Bushwick directing a scene from his new film.  The entire cast and production crew can vouch he was there the whole time.  He spent half an hour with the script girl working on the dialog while everyone else tried to stay awake.”
“So you don’t have any leads at all?  I can’t believe this.  There has to be something.  What about the shot that was fired at me outside my building?  Why can’t you do like the detectives on TV and check ballistics?”
 “Oh, thank you so much for telling me how to do my job.  Ballistics.  What a great idea.  Why didn’t that ever occur to me?”  Sloane slapped his forehead.  “You dope.  Don’t you think that’s the first thing I did?”
“How should I know what you did and didn’t do?”
“Well, you can rest easy, Sherlock.  We ran the test and it turned out to be the same gun that was used on Behan.  Not that there was any big surprise there.”  Sloane tried to look angry but ended up laughing instead.  “Ballistics,” he muttered in disbelief.  Then he straightened up.  “But it doesn’t do us much good knowing it was the same gun if we don’t know who fired it.  We’re back to square one.” 
For a long while after that Quinn said nothing.  He slumped into a chair and sat staring at the wall, plainly struggling to come to terms with everything Sloane had just told him.  “Looks like I’m not much of a detective after all,” he said at last.  “I was so sure it was Curwin, and now instead I find out I was wrong about everything.”
“Theories are fine and dandy,” Sloane pointed out.  “But they aren’t worth shit if there’s no evidence to back them up.  You ran off half cocked with the first notion that entered your head.  That’s not the right way to go about things.  First you look at the evidence, and then you come up with a theory based on what you’ve got.  You had it ass backwards.”
“I fucked up all right.”  Quinn hung his head.  “I guess I owe Curwin an apology.”
“A big one,” Sloane agreed.  “The guy’s in shit up to his eyeballs thanks to you.”
Quinn was thoroughly confused.  “Why is that?  I never accused him in public of having done anything wrong.”
“You didn’t have to.  You told your suspicions to Lachner.  That was all it took.  Once he turned himself in, the first thing he started babbling about was Curwin’s involvement with the yakuza.  I guess he was hoping that if he threw the press a bone like that he could hold back for a while on his own shady dealings.  Now it’s in the SEC’s hands.”
“And they’re going to take Lachner’s word for it?”
“They have no choice in the matter,” Sloane explained.  “They can’t ignore anything Lachner’s saying, not after all the media attention he’s gotten.  There’ll be an examination of Curwin’s tax records, interviews with his partners and investors, the whole nine yards.”
“But what if it turns out there’s nothing there?” asked Quinn.  “When I met Curwin, he told me he was making a legitimate investment, one that brought in a huge profit.  There’s nothing illegal in that.  Everything I told Lachner about the yakuza being involved was all second hand information.  I had no way of knowing whether it was true or not.”
“Exactly.  You were just shooting your fat mouth off the same as always.  And now the SEC is forced to check everything out to see if there’s anything at all to these wild speculations.  They can’t very well hand Curwin a pass and forget about it.”
“But what if the SEC goes through with all this and it turns out Curwin’s clean?  The damage will already be done.  A financier’s whole business depends on his reputation.  Who’s going to invest their money with someone who’s suspected of working with the yakuza?   Once the story comes out, the tabloids will have a field day with it and Curwin will be washed up whether he’s guilty or not.”
“It’s a little late for you to start thinking of that now.  You were the one who blabbed his head off to Lachner and set this whole thing in motion.”  Sloane leaned back in his chair.  “What do you care all of a sudden what happens to Curwin anyway?  You’ve hated the guy’s guts all along.  I’d have thought you’d be happy as hell if he ended up in the gutter.”
“When I put you onto him, I was sure he had killed Behan.  Now you’re telling me he didn’t, that he couldn’t have because he was somewhere else when my father was shot.  I don’t want to ruin an innocent man.  How I feel about him personally doesn’t matter.”
Sloane couldn’t contain his anger.  “Why do you think I kept telling you to stay out of this and let the police handle it?  This is what happens when you play detective.  You go blundering around accusing innocent people and saying the first thing that comes into your head.  The next thing you know, you’ve trashed someone’s reputation.”
“I never meant to hurt anyone,” Quinn protested.
“You know how many times a policeman hears that line?” Sloane shot back.  “But look at it this way – if Curwin goes down, at least you’ll have a clear field with his wife.”
Quinn jumped up from his chair.  “Is that what you really believe?  That I’d deliberately destroy someone just to make it easier to get into bed with his wife?”
Sloane drank the last of his milkshake.  “You wouldn’t be the first to hit low to rid yourself of a husband who’s in the way.  It happens every day.  Trust me on that.”
“If that’s really what you think of me, I’ve got nothing more to say to you.”  Quinn turned his back on Sloane and made his way slowly to the door.

After having left the station house, Quinn walked west along Canal.  He passed the storefront where Pearl Paint, its sign still in place, had been forced to close by rising rents.   Finally he came to Varick where he caught an uptown C train to 34th Street.
When Ito saw who his caller was, he took a quick step back into his studio. 
“You don’t have to worry,” said Quinn.  “I’m not here to harass you any longer.  I’m done with that.  I actually came to apologize for the way I’ve acted.”
Ito, his white hair falling wildly over his shoulders, stood regarding Quinn silently for a moment, then swung the door fully open so his visitor could enter.
“Thanks,” said Quinn as he walked past the door.  “If you’d slammed it shut in my face, it would only have been what I deserved.”
 “It would serve no purpose for me to be rude.  Even when sorely tried, we Japanese believe it’s best to follow the rules of politeness as far as we can.”
“You’re one up on this baka gaijin then.”  Quinn took note of the empty packing cases that littered the studio floor.  “Are you going somewhere?”
A rueful expression crossed Ito’s countenance as he turned to survey the boxes.  “Back to Tokyo.  I have a flight out of Newark Airport tomorrow afternoon.  My assistants will send the rest of my belongings afterwards.”
“Sort of sudden, isn’t it?” Quinn asked.  Seeing Ito frown, he added, “Don’t get uptight.  I know it’s none of my business.  I’m not still trying to pry into your affairs.”
Ito relaxed slightly but remained standing.  He didn’t offer a seat to Quinn.  “It’s no secret what’s happening.  I’m losing my top investor, and the others will follow suit as soon as they hear the news.  Without the assistance of Curwin-san, I have nowhere to turn.”
“What about the movie?” Quinn wanted to know.  “Aren’t you going to finish it?”
“Luckily, it was almost completed when all this occurred.  I have only a few scenes left to shoot, and I will hopefully be able to secure financing in Japan that will allow me to finish those remaining portions.  It should not be too difficult to find the right locations.”
“I wouldn’t exactly call your films works of art, and I don’t think it would be all that much of a loss to the world if this one were never released,” Quinn said, “but I’m still sorry I messed things up for you.  I know you must have put a lot of effort into making it.”
“Who is to say what’s art and what isn’t?” Ito asked.  “Are you really able to judge?”
Quinn knew at once he’d misspoken.  “No, you’re right.  I’m not qualified to criticize your work.  I only said that just now to keep myself from feeling guilty over what I’ve done to you.  For all I know, it could be a masterpiece of Japanese cinema that I’ve ruined.”
 “You’ve become much less obnoxious than you were on the last several occasions we met.  Perhaps your eyes have at last been opened.”  Ito examined Quinn more closely.  “There really isn’t any point in berating yourself.  Everything is a matter of karma.  If my film wasn’t meant to be completed, then there’s nothing that can be done about it.  So there’s really no need for you to suffer remorse over what has occurred.”
“I don’t know if it’s as hopeless as all that.”  Quinn paused as he chose his next words carefully.  “I imagine you still have backers in Japan who can help.”
Ito understood at once.  “You’re referring to the yakuza, aren’t you?  It’s those anti-social elements in Japan that Curwin-san is accused of having consorted with.”
“I imagine there are all sorts of legitimate businesses that have been infiltrated by organized crime over the years.  And not just in Japan either.  I’m willing to make allowances for what happened to you.  The mob has so many legitimate fronts that probably when you were first offered money you weren’t fully aware of its source.”
Ito sat down and, without looking at him, began to speak to Quinn as patiently as if he were a small child.  “I have never in my life been involved with the yakuza, and that is the truth.  What really happened is that more than twenty years ago I made a film about the life of a notorious gangster who had eventually become the head, the godfather, of a large crime syndicate.   At the time, the studio thought it would be good publicity to circulate a rumor that the yakuza had had a hand in the making of the film and had helped fund it.”
For a second Quinn was speechless.  “So you’re saying there was no truth to any of it, that you never had any actual involvement with the yakuza?”
Ito’s laughter was sardonic.  “Do I look so completely crazy to you as that?  No Japanese in his right mind would have anything to do with those gangsters if he could avoid it.  Perhaps at the time I should have argued more forcefully with the studio executives when they suggested such a foolish stunt, but I never thought anyone would take it seriously.  As far as I was concerned, it was no more than a ploy to lure moviegoers into the theater.”
Quinn watched helplessly as his carefully constructed theories crumbled to dust before him.  “What about those photos of Curwin’s wife, Penelope, you had here in your studio?  Did you really only keep them for inspiration as you told me?”
The question took Ito by surprise.  “Yes, those were wonderful photographs that Behan took.  Looking at truly imaginative art has always helped me be more creative in my own work.  Why do you ask?  What other reason did you think I had for possessing them?”
“To be honest, I thought you might have been contemplating giving Penelope a role in your film.  She’s very beautiful, you know.”
Ito laughed outright at Quinn’s suggestion.  “How amusing,” he said.  “Penelope is indeed a very beautiful woman and Curwin-san is a lucky man to have married her.  But you must realize that she unfortunately has no more appreciation of my work than you do.  I do not believe she likes me very much at all.  She tries to avoid me at every opportunity.”
“But you visited her the very day I was first here,” Quinn reminded him.
Ito lifted his eyebrows in surprise.  “That’s very true.  Now that you mention it, I remember that I did travel to Curwin-san’s apartment on Fifth Avenue that same day.  Once I found out that the photographs in my studio had been taken by your deceased father, I wanted to return them to their rightful owner before you could accuse me of having stolen them.  That would have been the final straw as you Americans so colorfully put it.”  Ito studied Quinn carefully.  “How did you manage to discover my whereabouts?”
Quinn saw no further need for subterfuge.  “I waited downstairs and followed you,” he confessed.  He wasn’t able to look Ito in the eyes as he said it.
“So,” was Ito’s only comment.
“I’m sorry,” Quinn apologized as his face reddened.  “No one knows better than I how stupidly I’ve acted.  I’m ashamed of myself.”
Ito shook his head sadly.  “Do not be too harsh when judging yourself.  It’s the fate of all men to act without judgment when they allow their emotions to cloud their reason.    You are really no different from anyone else.”
“It’s good of you to be so understanding.”  Quinn finally rested his eyes on Ito’s face.  “I can’t believe how wrong I’ve been about everything I was once so sure of.”

Ito approached Quinn slowly.  He reached up to put a hand on his shoulder.  “Sometimes ignorance cannot be helped.  It’s never easy to see the truth, and often what we think is real is no more than a dream from which we must eventually wake.”

Monday, May 21, 2018

Censored Photographs

I recently came across an interesting article in The Guardian concerning censored photographs from the 1930's.

Every photographer knows of the classic photographs taken in the 1930's for the FSA (the Farm Security Administration).  Part of Roosevelt's New Deal, the FSA was established to provide work for photographers by documenting the effects of the Great Depression   A number of legendary photographers such as Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange created a body of work that showed the human toll the economic disaster exacted from the country.

What I had not previously known was that many images by these same photographers were routinely censored by punching a hole through the negatives that prevented even cropped prints being made from them.  While some of this was understandable, as in the case of photos that were too obviously staged or that were technically flawed, in other instances the motivation was more obscure and one suspects the offending images may have been censored for violating social taboos.

Luckily, none of the mutilated negatives were destroyed but instead eventually entered the archives of the Library of Congress where they were only recently digitized.  In this form they were then discovered by Nayia Yiakoumaki, a curator at London's Whitechapel Gallery, who decided to mount a show.  She writes:
"I was astonished when I learned of the existence of the rejected negatives. These are photographers and images that I have studied and taught, but I had not realised that the images we know so well were only part of a much larger story."
The exhibit will run from May 16 through August 26, 2018.

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.”