Wednesday, May 2, 2018

The Dark Veil: Chapter Sixteen

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

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

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

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