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.”

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