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.”

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