Wednesday, June 6, 2018

The Dark Veil: Chapter Twenty-One

It was late, sometime after midnight, when Quinn was woken by the phone ringing beside his bed.  He groped about in the dark for the cordless landline.  “Yes, what is it?” he asked once he had located it.  His voice was still sleepy but an instant later fully alert.  “Is that you, Sloane?  Are you still there?  Could you repeat that?”
Quinn listened again to the detective’s voice on the other end of the line.  “I got it.  I’ll be there as soon as I can find a cab.”
On Riverside Drive, Quinn waited five minutes before he saw a taxi discharging an elderly pair in evening clothes.  Quinn was in the back seat before the driver had had time to count his tip.  “67th and Fifth,” Quinn said, “and get there as fast as you can.  I’ll make it worth your while.”
When Quinn arrived in front of Lachner’s townhouse, the front door was standing wide open.  Police and medics moved methodically back and forth through it.  No one gave him much notice.   A uniform raised a hand as Quinn approached but then allowed him to pass once he had mentioned Sloane’s name.
Inside, the detective was standing in conversation with a patrolman.  “This is Winkelman,” he explained as Quinn joined them.  “He was first on the scene.”
Winkelman glanced curiously at Quinn and then went on talking to Sloane.  “There were multiple calls to 911 reporting the sound of a single gunshot.  I was on foot patrol two blocks away at 65th and Madison when I got the word.  I ran here as fast as I could.”
“How much time elapsed before you arrived on the scene?” asked Sloane.
“It could only have been a minute or two, but everything was completely silent by then.  A neighbor came out on his stoop and pointed me here.  As I approached, I saw the front door was ajar.  I unholstered my weapon and called out ‘Police.’  There was no response, so I pushed the door back.  It was pitch black inside.  I couldn’t see a thing.  I didn’t want to walk into an ambush, so I stepped back and called for backup.  Nothing happened before the other units arrived.  No one came in or out.  Once they got here, we drew our guns, again loudly identified ourselves and then made our way inside.”
“Did you touch anything?  Is everything here exactly as you found it?”
Winkelman pushed his cap back from his forehead.  “Callaghan stumbled in the dark before we could find a light switch and knocked over a small table in the foyer.  Aside from that, though, nothing’s been moved.  As soon as the lights were on, we saw the victim stretched out on the living room floor with a single bullet wound directly between the eyes.  Callaghan immediately attempted CPR even though it was clear the man was dead.  There was no way he could have survived.  The bullet would have gone directly into his brain.”
Sloane nodded and Winkelman walked off to one side to await further instructions.
The detective moved toward the living room and Quinn followed directly behind.
Lachner’s body hadn’t yet been moved.  Clothed in silk pajamas, it lay facing upwards.  The sightless eyes were fixed on the ceiling above and the lips were drawn back in a rictus of pure terror.  From the horrified expression on the corpse’s face there couldn’t be any doubt that Lachner had had time to see death coming straight at him. 
“He must have gotten a good look at the killer,” Sloane remarked.
“Too bad he can’t tell us anything about him,” Quinn answered.  As he looked down on the corpse, a police photographer bent low beside him to take another shot.  In the harsh light of the camera flash the body seemed to stiffen and the skin to turn a translucent shade of blue.  Quinn turned away as though from some obscene display.
“I see this every day of the week,” said Sloane, “but I never get used to it.”
“Why are you here anyway?”  Quinn asked.  “Isn’t this a little off the Chinatown beat?  And why wasn’t anyone guarding the man in the first place?”
“The homicide squad from the 19th have already been here and gone.  They’ve turned it over to me for the time being.  Someone screwed up big time.  The surveillance team was pulled after Lachner agreed to testify, and no one thought to post an officer out front even though it should have been obvious the old guy was in danger.”
Quinn nodded.  “The bullet in Lachner’s brain will probably turn out to have been fired from the same gun that killed Behan.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised,” said Sloane, “but this time the killer’s moved into an entirely new league.  The Feds have been building this money laundering case for over a year.  It was their pet project, the one that would make headlines.  Now the killer’s managed to silence the star witness before he ever had a chance to tell what he knew.  That’s going to make a lot of people very unhappy.  An ADA is already on the way over to take charge.”
“What else is new?” Quinn asked.  He wasn’t able to hide the bitterness in his voice.  “When it was just some penniless old man, no one gave a shit.  But now that it’s a member of the financial community, one of Wall Street’s movers and shakers, the cops will tear the city apart trying to find out who pulled the trigger.”
“That’s the way it’s always worked in New York.  Money talks, and bullshit walks.”
“Tell me about it,” Quinn muttered, more to himself than anyone else.
“Look at it this way – when we find the guy who killed Lachner, we’ll also find the guy who killed Behan.”
Quinn glanced at Sloane in surprise.  “I don’t think there’s any big mystery who took Lachner out.”
Sloane shook his head in disbelief.  “Don’t start in about Curwin again.  There’s absolutely no way he could have been involved.  Ever since he got his name in the papers, he’s had a squad of reporters and photographers camped outside his front door.  If he’d left his building, they’d have swarmed him the minute he set foot on Fifth Avenue.”
“No, Curwin’s no longer a suspect,” Quinn agreed.  “I was thinking much closer to home.  If there wasn’t any break in, then the killer must have been someone Lachner knew and trusted.  I told you about Chester, the rich man’s little helper, the last time you were at my place.  Were you able to find out anything about him?”
“Yeah, I owe you one for giving me the word on that punk.  He’s a sweetheart all right. Hasn’t reported to his parole officer for the past six months.  There was already a warrant out for him on that.”  Sloane clenched his fists.  “Yes, he’s the first one we want to talk to.  Once we find him that is.  There was no trace of him when we arrived.  I had Winkelman check the whole house.  The SOB’s gone on the run.  We’ve put out an APB out on him.  He’s considered armed and dangerous.”
“The last time I was here, he pulled a knife on me.  I had to take it away from him and tell him to mind his manners.”
Sloane chuckled in spite of himself.  “I’d have liked to have seen that.  You must be hell on wheels when someone pisses you off.”
“Yeah, sure.  I’m a fucking comic book hero once I get going.”  Quinn watched the morgue attendants come in and load Lachner’s corpse onto a stretcher.
“Ballistics should have results tomorrow on the bullet that’s sitting inside Lachner’s skull.  If you’re right and it turns out to be the same gun that killed Behan and was used in the shooting outside your building, all we’ve got to do is find the guy with the .32 in his pocket and we’ll be able to tie everything up in one neat package.”
“You don’t have any other suspects, do you?” Quinn asked.
Sloane regarded him inquisitively.  “Have you told me everything you know?”
“I’m not holding anything back,” said Quinn.  “Not this time.”
“It still might be a good idea if you came downtown tomorrow and gave a statement.”
“What the hell do you need a statement from me for?  I was at home all evening.  The first I knew about this was when you called me.”
“Then it’ll be a short statement.  But you’re going to give it to me all the same.”

“I’m sorry about the other day,” Shaley apologized.  “I didn’t mean to lose my temper the way I did.  I get irritable sometimes when I’m not feeling well.”
“It’s ok,” Quinn replied.  “I had no right getting down on you the way I did.  It was like you said – I jumped to conclusions and then tried to blame you for my own stupidity.”
The two of them had just returned to Shaley’s studio from a walk with their cameras through the East Village.  Shaley had paused on almost every block to show Quinn some spot he, Behan and Lachner had frequented in their student days more than forty years before.  There wasn’t much left to see; most of those venues had long ago been torn down.
“Those were good times,” Shaley had said as he and Quinn had stood outside the former site of the Fillmore East.  All that was left was a plaque on the wall granting the building landmark status.  “All the greats played here.”
In the harsh early afternoon light on Second Avenue, Shaley had appeared to have aged twenty years in as many hours.  His face had taken on a waxen pallor and the muscles around his mouth twitched uncontrollably.  Once back in his studio, under the fluorescent lighting fixtures, he looked little better.  “This is getting to be too much for me,” he told Quinn.  “First your father, and now Lachner.”
Quinn offered what comfort he could.  “I know you must be worried about your heart condition, but you’ve got to keep going.  You still have your work to keep you busy.”
“Yes, there’s always that.”  Shaley put his hand on Quinn’s shoulder.  “I was thinking it might be a good idea, though, if I took a break and did some traveling.”
“Everyone needs a vacation when they’ve been under pressure, and this is probably a good a time as any for you.  Where will you go?”
“Europe probably.  I haven’t been overseas in ages.”
“Great idea,” said Quinn.  “There’s plenty to do in the EU.  I wouldn’t mind spending a few weeks in Amsterdam or Paris myself once all this is over.”
“There’s another reason I want to get away for a while,” Shaley confided.  “Behan and Lachner and I were so close that I can’t help being afraid I may be next.  What if the killer turns out to be someone we knew?   He might be planning to take us out one by one.”
Quinn scoffed at the idea.  “You’re being paranoid.  Why would someone have put your names on a hit list after all these years?  What you’re saying doesn’t make any sense.”
“You’re probably right,” Shaley acknowledged, “but these killings have shaken me up so badly I’m not able to think straight any longer.”
Quinn walked to the refrigerator and opened it.  “Here,” he said, “have a beer and try to relax.”
“Easier said than done,” Shaley complained.  He took the Heineken, though, and drank the entire bottle straight down.
Quinn opened a bottle for himself and seated himself beside the older man.  “You don’t have anything to worry about as far as your safety is concerned.  The police know who did it – it was that punk Chester that Lachner had staying with him – and they’re out there searching for him night and day.”
“Poor Chester.”  Shaley closed his eyes.  “He should have stuck to knocking over corner drugstores.  What’s his old man going to do when the kid gets charged with murder?  It’ll most likely kill him.”
“That’s not for you to worry about.  Chester made his life, and now he has to face the consequences.”   Quinn threw the empty beer bottle in the garbage and put on his jacket.
“What about you?” Shaley asked.  “Where are you off to?”
“There was a message from Curwin on my answering machine earlier today.  He wants to meet with me this evening.  He didn’t say about what, but I’m pretty sure he’s all set to give me hell for making his life such a misery.”
Shaley looked up.  “Are you sure you should go then?  What if he turns violent?”

Quinn’s mouth tightened.  “I’m not worried.  I can take care of myself well enough.  Besides, I owe the man the courtesy of at least hearing him out after all the damage I’ve caused.  I’m sure as hell not going to run away and hide from him.”

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