Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The Dark Veil: Chapter Twenty-Two

That evening, when Quinn entered the ground floor restaurant inside the New York Historical Society, he found that Curwin had arrived there ahead of him. The financier, still dressed conservatively in a hand tailored dark blue suit, was seated comfortably at the small bar and was sipping his drink as though he hadn’t a care in the world.  As soon as he saw Quinn approach him, he rose and extended his hand.  “I’m glad you could make it.  We got off to a bad start the last time we met.  I was hoping we could give it another try.” 
As Quinn shook Curwin’s hand and then took a seat beside him, he gazed curiously at the businessman.  “Ever since I got your voice mail I’ve been trying to figure out exactly why you wanted to see me.  I was pretty sure it was so you could rip me a new one for having ruined your career, not to mention having tried to seduce your wife.  I wouldn’t have held it against you under the circumstances.  And yet here you are as calm as can be welcoming me like an old friend.  I hope you’re not going to tell me you set this up just so you could apologize for having shown bad manners, especially when mine were no better.” 
Curwin gave a slight smile as he handed Quinn the drinks menu.  “I can see perfectly well how you’d be leery; but, believe it or not, that really was pretty much the reason I invited you here.  I’m afraid I let my temper get the better of me when you visited my office.  I should have held it in better check.”
“You realize I’m having a hard time believing that that’s all there is to it?”
“I can well appreciate your skepticism.  I didn’t act well.  I know it.”
 “Neither did I for that matter.  But this is too much for me.” Quinn couldn’t get over his amazement.  “I came here expecting to have another loud argument with you if not an actual fistfight.  I was sure you’d tell me again to stay away from your wife and to get the hell out of town.  The last thing I was prepared for was for you to roll out the red carpet.”   Quinn took the drinks menu but didn’t immediately open it. “I definitely have some apologizing of my own to do.  You probably know by now that I’m the one who hung you out to dry.  I was the idiot who told Lachner about your business dealings with Ito, as much as I knew or thought I knew anyway.  If I hadn’t shot my mouth off, Lachner wouldn’t have had anything to hand the press when they confronted him outside the courthouse.”
Curwin signaled the bartender, a balding middle aged man in a white apron.  “Oh, yes, I was sure all along it was you.  There was no one else it could have been.  You were the only one outside of Penelope and a few investors who knew about my connection to Ito.”
“Well, if it helps any, I’m sincerely sorry for the problems I’ve caused you.”  Quinn lowered his head.  “I know that isn’t much to offer, but it’s all I’ve got to give right now.”
Curwin remained eerily calm.  “Don’t worry about it.  I’ve been in the game long enough to know that there are always risks involved when backing a business venture.”
“The funny thing is that Ito never was involved with the yakuza in the first place.  He told me so himself, and I have no reason to doubt his word.”
“No, I knew that too.  I’d never have put my clients’ money on the table without first having made sufficient inquiries and done due diligence.  Lachner’s firm was one of those that helped in the investigation, though I’m sure he never mentioned that fact to you.”
“No, he didn’t.  And now Lachner’s dead.”
“Yes, the police have already questioned me about it.  There wasn’t anything I could tell them though.”  Curwin gave a short laugh as he watched the bartender amble toward him carrying another drink.  “I hope you’re not too disappointed they didn’t arrest me.” 
Quinn’s face reddened.  “Listen, I’m not out to get you.  At least not anymore I’m not.  If you weren’t involved in Behan’s killing – and I’m sure now you weren’t – you can forget you ever knew me and get on with putting your life back together.”
“Well, that’s a relief to hear.”  Curwin laughed again – only this time it had a shrill ring to it – and then jumped to another topic.  “Pen told me you were a photographer.  I used to be interested in it myself when I was younger, but I wasn’t really any good at it.”
Quinn tried not to show his surprise at the turn the conversation had taken.  “I was never that successful myself, just picked up the odd assignment here and there.  But if you’d honestly wanted to get involved in photography, you should have kept at it.  No one takes photos like Stieglitz did when they first start out, probably not even Stieglitz himself.”
“Maybe I was too hard on myself.  I always wanted to be the best at whatever I did.  That was always my greatest strength and at the same time my greatest weakness.”
Quinn nodded.  “How’s your drink?  I heard the bartender call it some Italian name.”
“It’s really just a gin and tonic, but I guess people are more likely to order one, or maybe two, if it’s got a swell sounding title.”
Quinn opened the drinks menu and gave it a cursory glance before tossing it aside.  “I don’t think I’d get far here ordering a boilermaker.”
Curwin changed the subject once again.  “I honestly am sorry about Behan.  Pen told me he was your father.  It’s important you know that I had nothing to do with his death.”
“Maybe not,” Quinn admitted, “but you really did have it in for him, didn’t you?  Why were you so down on the old guy when he’d never done anything to you?”
Curwin called the bartender over and ordered for Quinn.  “Premium rye, a double, and the best beer you have on tap.”  Then he shifted uneasily on his upholstered bar stool and looked Quinn in the eye.  “If you want to know the truth, I was jealous of him.”
“Jealous?  Of Behan?  Are you shitting me?   You were the one who ended up married to Penelope, not him.  My father never had a snowball’s chance in hell with your wife.  She saw him as a friend, nothing more than that.  And what else was there to be envious of?  The poor fucker never had two nickels to rub together his whole life.”
“I don’t know what a critic would say about Behan’s work…”
“Nothing very nice,” interjected Quinn, “probably only that the photos weren’t worth looking at.”  He watched as the bartender quietly set his drink down before him.
“…but when I saw his prints, I realized that they really were art and better than anything I could ever have hoped to accomplish myself.”
“Yes, Behan was actually a wonderful photographer – I’ve never met anyone who understood light as well as he did – and a solid darkroom technician as well.  The irony is that when digital came along, it took away the only thing he’d ever been good at.” 
“I hear traditional printmaking is referred to now as a ‘lost art.’”  Curwin’s expression grew wistful.  “I wish now I’d had a chance to take a crack at it before it all disappeared.”
“If you ever do want to try, I’d be happy to show you the basics.  Behan’s old Durst enlarger is still in the apartment, and I’d like to try it out myself one day.”
“Thanks.  I might take you up on that sometime.”
“No problem.”  Quinn wasn’t sure how to phrase his next question.  “Do you mind telling me why you ever got involved with Ito?  It wasn’t a typical Wall Street investment.”
“No, not at all.  I’m going to have to go through it with the SEC anyway.  It’ll take a long time for me to satisfy them that everything was on the up and up.   My accountants and lawyers will make a fortune on all the work they’ll end up having to do.”
“So what are you going to tell the SEC?”
“The truth.  What else?  I did business with Ito because it was lucrative.  Those films of his may have been trash, but they made millions for everyone who’d put up money.”
“Do you think the examiners will buy that explanation?”
“They’ll kick and scream, but when they look at the books they’ll see my point.”
“You should be back in business in no time then.”  Quinn couldn’t help sounding hopeful.  “And not only that, but you’ve still got your penthouse on Fifth Avenue and a beautiful wife to come home to at the end of the day.”
But Curwin wasn’t having any of it.  “As far as my marriage goes, it’s already too late to salvage it.  Pen and I are finished.  I’m not exactly sure when it ended.  Maybe it was when she learned Behan had been killed.  Maybe it was when she met you.”
 “I don’t really take much pleasure in thinking I destroyed someone’s marriage.  I’m no playboy.  I rarely even go on dates, and when I do it’s always been with single women.”
“Don’t worry.”  Curwin pushed his empty glass aside.  “It would have been over soon enough anyway.  It was just a matter of time till she and I called it quits.”
“I don’t see why you have to be so negative.”  Quinn knocked back the double shot of rye.  “You’re still together.  You both could give it another go if you really wanted.”
“Listen, I know you’re in love with my wife.  I could see it the first time we met at my office.  It drove me crazy then.  It’s one reason I acted so irrationally.  But now I think she may be better off with someone more normal, someone who loves her for herself.”
“Do you really believe that?” asked Quinn.
“Yes, I do.  So don’t be too hard on yourself.  You’re not a homewrecker, just a guy who was around to pick up the pieces.”
“If you’re telling me the truth, then I don’t know what to say.  I never thought you’d lay it on the line this way.  I can’t tell you how sorry I feel now.”
“I must have seemed a total monster to you, the incarnation of capitalist greed.”
“Listen, Cecil, who am I to go around condemning others?  It’s not like I don’t have any failings of my own.  Like seeing stereotypes instead of people.  It’s just as wrong of me to think every millionaire is evil and calculating,  especially when I know all the while that most rich people got their money by working night and day so they could give their children a better life than they had themselves.  I think any time people look at someone without taking the time to see the person inside, there’s going to be no end of misconceptions.”
“You’re not so bad yourself if you realize that much.”  Curwin stood up, placed his platinum Amex card on the bar and beckoned to the bartender for the check.

Once outside, on the corner of 77th Street, Quinn took a quick look across the way to Central Park’s darkened greenery.  Out of habit, he scanned the shadows.  As he was turning away, he noticed a figure sitting alone on a bench.  The man’s slight frame was partially concealed by the overhanging branches.  Still, Quinn knew at once the man was watching him.
Even though the silhouetted figure wore a hat pulled low over his eyes, Quinn had no trouble recognizing him.  For his part, the seated man, even when he became aware that Quinn had seen him, didn’t try to change position or make himself any less conspicuous. 
Quinn waited for the light to change, then crossed Central Park West and placed himself in front of the bench.  He looked down at the motionless figure.  “So here we are again, Chester,” he said.  His voice was low and almost conversational in tone.  “You should have listened better when I warned you to stay away from me.  But I guess a guy like you doesn’t take advice from anyone.  You think you’re dangerous enough that you can do whatever you please and that guys like me should just step aside and let you alone if they know what’s good for them.  Except I don’t quite see you that way.”  Quinn’s voice hardened.  “To me you’re nothing but the dog shit I scrape off the sole of my shoe.”
Chester glanced up but made no movement to stand.  He kept his hands stuffed inside his jacket pockets.  The same mischievous smile as always played about his lips as he studied Quinn’s face.  “Always playing the joker, aren’t you?” he asked in an unnaturally soft voice.  “That smart mouth is going to be the death of you yet.”
Quinn shifted his balance as he prepared to move forward.  “We could keep this up all night, little man, but there’ll be a cop passing by sooner or later.  If you’re still packing that .32, now’s the time to pull it.  You’ve already got two murders to your credit, so you might as well try for the hat trick.” 
“When are you finally going to get wise?  I ain’t killed anybody.”  Chester gave his head a gentle shake.  “Not yet anyway.”
“Try telling that to Lachner… and to my old man.”
A puzzled frown crossed Chester’s face and momentarily wiped away his smile.  “I don’t know shit about your old man and could care less.  As for Lachner, I know they’re going to try to hang a frame on me for that one, but they’ll have got the wrong guy.”
“Sure, I know,” Quinn jeered.  “Poor old Lachner was just like a father to you.  You miss him already.  Tell me all about it, why don’t you?”
The smile returned to Chester’s face as he stood up slowly.  “Maybe if the gig had lasted longer I might have helped myself to a few odds and ends when it came time to leave.  Nothing wrong with that.   For sure he had plenty to spare.”
“You should have been more patient then and waited your chance.”
“I should’ve made my move sooner, you mean.  The way it went down I just about had time to get out the door with the clothes on my back.”
“I’m crying for you.”
“Yeah, I can see the tears pouring out of your eyes.  Why don’t I lend you my hanky so you can wipe them away?”
“Oh, and here I thought you had no heart.”  Quinn turned for a quick look behind him, then pivoted on his hips.  His fist, when it smashed into Chester’s face, had his full weight behind it.
Chester fell back and banged his head against the stone wall that extended around the Park.  A bruise appeared on the side of his head.  “You sucker punched me, you lousy bastard,” he gasped.  He clambered back to his feet.  “I’ll kill you for that.”
Quinn didn’t move as the other stood catching his breath and wiping the blood from his mouth.  “Go ahead and do it, punk.  Show me how tough you really are.”
Chester popped open the stiletto and brought it up in a single fluid movement.  He never took his eyes off Quinn as the two maneuvered back and forth, each of them waiting for the other to let down his guard even if only for an instant.
Quinn feinted to the left.
Chester saw his opening and took it.  His arm was a blur as the blade slashed open a wide cut on the side of Quinn’s face.
Quinn never flinched.  If he felt the wound at all, he didn’t let on.  Disregarding the knife still pointed at him, he moved steadily forward.  He punched Chester in the face a second time.  There was a snapping sound as the younger man’s jawbone shattered from the force of the impact.  Two of his teeth fell out and landed on the sidewalk in a small puddle of blood.  Then Quinn began throwing body punches hard enough to crack Chester’s ribs.
Chester went down again and this time landed heavily on his back.  He made an effort to rise but couldn’t get to his feet.  A shudder passed through his body and his limbs twitched convulsively.
“Had enough yet?” Quinn asked.
Chester peered up from the pavement on which he was lying.  A low moan passed his lips as he tried unsuccessfully to move himself.  “Go ahead and finish me,” he said.
“You should be so lucky.”  Quinn reached down and picked up Chester’s broken body with his two hands and then lifted it high over his head.  For a second Quinn remained poised in that position.  Then, with a grunt, he heaved Chester over the side of the stone wall and into the Park’s gloomy interior.  Beyond where he stood, there was an almost twenty foot drop to the bridle path below.  Chester made no sound at all when he landed.

“The hell with you,” Quinn said under his breath.  He quickly checked the opposite sidewalk and the windows above but could see no one watching him.  He rubbed his reddened knuckles and used his sleeve to wipe away the blood still streaming down his torn cheek.  Then he strode off without stopping to look back.

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