I photographed this man near the promenade in Central Park last spring. I wish him well, but there didn't seem much interest in his poems on the day I saw him.
Friday, July 20, 2018
Wednesday, July 18, 2018
Last week I posted here the final chapter of my novel The Dark Veil that I'd been serializing, one chapter each Wednesday, over the past six months. It was my first attempt at authoring a noir novel, and I found after I'd finished writing it several shortcomings that I tried to fix in my next novel The Blue Hours. As far as I was concerned, the three principal problems were these:
- Setting of Story - The problem with setting a noir novel in present day New York City is that the town has lost all the grit that made it so intriguing a place to live. Now it's nothing more than an upscale shopping mall controlled by real estate interests who have no sense of the city's history and who have deliberately scrubbed it drained it of its vitality in hopes of luring foreign condo buyers.
- Weak Ending - The problem with having in the first chapter a penniless old man as a murder victim only became clear as I neared the end of the book and had to devise a plausible motive for the crime. In real life, no one in Manhattan would trouble to end such a character's life. In fact, no one in New York City would want anything at all to do with such an individual, assuming anyone would trouble themselves to notice a destitute senior citizen in the first place.
- Characterization of Protagonist - This was really the novel's major problem. In writing the novel, I naively created a protagonist who is fairly normal and a likeable enough person and yet who resorts to extreme violence at the drop of a hat. That led to an inconsistency that I was unable to resolve. I tried hard to remedy the dilemma in my next novel by introducing a completely different type, a drug addicted anti-hero, as the lead character from whose point of view the story was told.
Looking back at The Dark Veil, I can't see it as a great success, much as I'd like to, but rather as an interesting experiment that taught me a great deal about writing fiction. For that alone it was worth the time I spent writing it.
I enjoyed serializing The Dark Veil and hope those of you who stayed the course enjoyed reading it just as much. In September I'll begin serializing here another of my novels, Lucid, a fantasy that explores the phenomenon of lucid dreaming.
Monday, July 16, 2018
Friday, July 13, 2018
Wednesday, July 11, 2018
When Quinn arrived back at his apartment, he found both Violeta and Mayla hurriedly packing their bags. Clothes were scattered all over the floor. Viktor was there too. He stood to one side awkwardly manhandling a few large suitcases.
“What’s up?” asked Quinn.
“We’re off to Milan,” said Mayla, glancing at Violeta and smiling.
“Both of you?”
“I heard from my girlfriend Helga,” explained Violeta. “She just joined a new startup agency there. She says there will be plenty of work for both of us.”
“Do you really have to rush off this way?” Quinn turned toward Violeta. “I would have thought that for a model of your height there would be a lot of work in Milan anyway.”
“Sometimes, but there’s always politics. Some models get sent out on go-sees for every job, and some are ignored. But Helga says this agency is too new to play favorites, at least so far. Right now they’re looking to sign on as many tall models as they can find so that they’ll be set when the fashion shows start. Who knows? Maybe it will all work out.”
“And they have an acting division as well,” Mayla chimed in. “Violeta’s friend says they’re especially interested in finding American actors for television commercials.”
“But you don’t speak Italian, do you?”
“Oh, Mayla will have no problem,” said Violeta. “On Italian television, they always dub the lines foreigners speak.”
“Well, I wish you the best of luck,” said Quinn. He gave them the brightest smile he could manage. “I hope you’ll at least come back to visit. I’m going to miss you both.”
“Yes,” added Viktor. “I hope so too. I don’t want to be left alone with this guy too long. He wins every time we play chess.”
“Don’t worry,” said Violeta. “New York City is too addictive to stay away for very long. We’ll be back and forth every few months.”
“And what will you be doing?” Mayla asked Quinn. “Not still searching for a crazed killer I hope. We saw on the news that the police had made an arrest.”
“I think I’m done with that.” Quinn briefly told them of his visit to the morgue. “So that’s it,” he concluded. “Lachner’s dead, Curwin’s dead, and Sloane is closing the case. There’s nothing left for me to do. After you leave, I’m going to give the apartment a good cleaning and toss all those stupid DVD’s Behan collected in the garbage. Then I’m going to get back to business and start photographing again.”
“If only Behan had had sense enough to do the same,” said Mayla, “he’d probably still be alive now.” She stubbed out her cigarette, then threw her arms around Quinn’s neck.
A dozen hugs later, the two women descended the stairs with Viktor valiantly struggling behind with their bags.
Sitting alone in his apartment, Quinn set to work. He began by scrubbing down the bathroom and kitchen. It turned out to be a bigger job than he’d anticipated. Like most single men, Behan had never concerned himself with keeping his home spotless. He’d found it easier to move the dirt out of sight and cover it up than to remove it.
After he’d finished with the mop and pail and had drunk a couple of beers to cool himself off, Quinn began the task of organizing the apartment’s contents. There wasn’t that much involved. He’d already been through the boxes of Behan’s prints when he’d first arrived and had them in fairly good order. And then Behan had never done any extensive recordkeeping or carried on any type of correspondence, so there weren’t very many papers to file away. There were no books to straighten out other than a handful of tattered paperbacks and several bulky photography monographs. In the end, Quinn was astonished that his father’s whole life could be contained in so small pile of belongings.
It was no accident that Quinn had saved for last the box of DVD’s containing Ito’s pink films. Those were just so much rubbish as far as he was concerned, but he wanted to sort through them anyway to make sure nothing of value had been mixed in among them. By then, his head was beginning to nod. He hadn’t been to bed since his late night visit to the morgue, and the lack of sleep was starting to take its toll. Quinn tried to force his eyes open but was barely able to register what he saw in front of him.
As Quinn placed the last of the DVD’s in a plastic garbage bag, he noticed that the box in which Behan had kept them was lined with computer printouts. Quinn gave them a quick glance and was about to toss them aside when his attention was caught by the neatly tagged columns of figures, each of them preceded by a dollar sign. The amounts shown were staggering. Quinn whistled as went through them and noted the totals. He realized then that he was looking at an auditor’s report comprised of neatly formatted spreadsheets. At the bottom of the report was the logo of Lachner’s old accounting firm; beside it was the managing partner’s certification and signature.
As soon as he saw the name of the client, Quinn was instantly wide awake and alert. He rose from that desk where he’d been seated and paced the room several times. After a few moments consideration, he made a phone call to Sloane’s cell number that lasted just long enough for him to leave a short message. Then he threw on his jacket and went out.
Shaley was in his loft when Quinn arrived. He was sitting in front of his computer, a large iced drink beside him, when the creaking freight elevator stopped at his floor and his visitor raised the wooden gate to get off.
“Hey, it’s you again,” said Shaley. His tone was welcoming. “I’ve been making travel plans for Prague. You’ve been there, haven’t you?”
“Many times,” said Quinn. “But I’m not here to be a tour guide.”
“So what is it then?” Something in Quinn’s tone had put Shaley on his guard.
Quinn walked to the desk where the photographer was seated, took the auditor’s report from his pocket and placed it beside the computer. “Why don’t you take a look at this? Then you’ll know the reason I’m here.”
Shaley regarded the papers but didn’t touch them. “What’s this supposed to be?”
“It’s an audit statement I found among Behan’s things. I thought since it had your name on it that I might as well return it. I figured you’d want it for your records.”
Shaley picked up the report and took a quick glance at its contents. He folded it carefully and put it in his desk drawer. “Thanks for dropping it off. My accountant thanks you too. Having this on hand will make his job that much easier when he gets ready to do my taxes.” He smiled then. “I haven’t any idea how Behan ever ended up with it.”
“There are a lot of transactions listed on there,” Quinn noted. “It’s amazing, isn’t it, how much money is involved in running a photography studio.”
Shaley didn’t blink. “I’ve already told you that a photographer who wants to make it in New York has to have the latest equipment. Even if the old stuff is good enough to get the job done, I still have to impress the client and art director. It’s those equipment purchases that are reflected in the report.”
“Yes, I do remember you telling me that. I also remember thinking a photographer would have to have a lot of income to be able to afford those purchases. He’d have to have so much business coming through the door that he’d be working night and day.”
“So what are you getting at?” asked Shaley. He took a sip from his drink but didn’t offer one to Quinn.
“Here you are sitting all alone again in your studio while you nurse your heart condition.” Quinn’s voice grew louder as he wandered about the loft. “Still no clients in sight, still no sets put up for a shoot, still the same layer of dust everywhere, just a bit heavier.”
“It wasn’t any of your business the last time you brought that up, and it isn’t any of your business now. How I run my studio is my affair. I don’t need an outsider sticking his nose in. No one has the right to barge in here and demand explanations of me.”
“Is that what I was doing?” asked Quinn. He appeared shocked at the suggestion. “I thought I was making conversation.”
Shaley’s expression hardened. “Well, if you’re done making it, this might be a good time for you to leave. Believe it or not, I have a lot of work to get done and don’t have the time to sit here all day bullshitting with you.”
“I understand. I’m sorry if I’ve been making a nuisance of myself.” Quinn hadn’t sat down or taken off his jacket. Now he turned to the elevator as he made ready to leave.
“No offense,” said Shaley in a more conciliatory tone. “Drop by again before I leave. I’ll most likely be taking off for Europe in the next week or two.”
“You have a great trip,” said Quinn. He stopped on his way to the elevator and then looked back as though he’d forgotten something. “But before you go, tell me more about Lachner. It’s pretty weird, isn’t it, that he could have been so deeply involved in his money laundering scam and all the while you, his good friend, hadn’t the slightest idea what was going on? Didn’t you ever have any suspicions? He was your auditor, for Christ’s sake.”
“I rarely saw Lachner these past few years. It was my accountant who met with him and handled all the paperwork.” Shaley tried to lighten up. “It’s just as well too. I’m a photographer, not a numbers cruncher. I wouldn’t have understood a word they were saying.”
“No, I never had that much of a head for finance either,” said Quinn. “Take the whole concept of money laundering for instance. I wouldn’t have any idea where to get started if I wanted to get involved in something like that.”
Shaley grew more cautious. “That’s probably just as well, don’t you think? It’s a pretty serious offense. You wouldn’t want the Feds breathing down your neck.”
“If I was going to try it, though, I’m thinking a photography business would be the right way to go,” Quinn continued. “Plenty of opportunities there.”
“That’s enough. I see what you’re getting at.” Shaley had finished pretending. As he put aside his easygoing manner, his eyes flashed. “You think you’re pretty fucking smart, don’t you? You think you have it all figured out.” His voice fell dangerously low.
“I’m not the only one. Behan found Lachner’s report lying around and came to the same conclusion I did, didn’t he?” Quinn pointed a finger directly at Shaley. “Behan was loyal; he never would have gone to the authorities with what he’d learned. All he wanted was to warn you how dangerous a mess you and Lachner had gotten yourselves into.”
Shaley slid his drink to one side. “I knew what Behan was up to when he said he wanted to meet. I could tell he was getting ready to shake me down.”
Quinn stood next to Shaley’s desk and began toying with the tripod that still stood there upright and ready for use. “You must have been pissing in your pants. As soon as Behan told you what he’d learned, the first idea that would have popped into your head was that he’d try blackmailing you. Because that’s what you’d have done if it had been the other way around. Isn’t that right? It never occurred to you that Behan wasn’t as low and greedy as you and Lachner. My father had his own sense of honor.”
“I told him I wouldn’t pay him a dime.” Shaley pounded his fist on the desk. “He said he didn’t want money. Said he only wanted to talk things over.”
“And you told him you didn’t want to discuss it in your studio, that it would be better to meet somewhere else.”
“How long are you going to keep playing these guessing games?”
“When we were at my father’s funeral, you didn’t come up to the casket at the end of the service to pay your respects. Why wouldn’t you when you’d known him so many years? It was because you couldn’t work up the courage to face the man you’d killed, wasn’t it?”
Shaley snorted derisively and looked away. “You’re as crazy as your old man if you think you can trap me into confessing to his murder. It’s not going to happen.”
“I only finished explaining to someone yesterday that Behan was a New Yorker,” said Quinn, “and not stupid enough to go wandering through a dark alley in Chinatown with a stranger. But you were an old friend he trusted and able to talk him into it. You wanted him in a lonely place so there wouldn’t be any witnesses nearby when you shot him in the heart.”
“All you have are your theories, and it’s no secret how off the mark they’ve been so far.” Shaley’s expression was defiant. “Try proving any of this in court.”
Quinn was unperturbed. “And then there was your other old friend Lachner. It must have been quite a shock when you learned he’d decided to play ball with the Feds. I can imagine how you must have panicked. You realized you didn’t have much time before he’d start fingering his confederates. Lucky for you that you’d held on to that .32.”
Shaley turned to face Quinn as though to stare him down. At the same time his hand reached slowly down to the desk drawer below his computer. Quinn was ready. He had already lifted the center post from the tripod and was hefting its weight in his hand. Without the least hesitation, he raised the metal ballhead high in the air and brought it crashing down before the other was able to pull the gun, a Beretta Tomcat, clear of the drawer.
Shaley put his hand to his head and gave a low moan. He slumped forward on the computer keyboard but didn’t lose consciousness. Blood poured from a gash on the side of his skull. “You fucking son of a bitch,” he said in a shocked voice as he choked on the blood coming from his mouth. Then his hand moved again as though with a life of its own. He tried once more to pick up the gun.
Quinn, who’d watched in silence, brought the center post down for a second blow, this time with even more power behind it.
Shaley’s skull crumpled beneath the impact. Blood and grey matter oozed from the crushed shell. The man was dead.
“That was for Behan,” said Quinn to the corpse. “I promised him I’d get the bastard who killed him.” He stood there for a moment looking down. Then he took the telephone from Shaley’s desk and punched in Sloane’s number. “Did you get my voicemail? Sorry I couldn’t wait for you to get back to me. Let me give you the address where I am now.”
Quinn studied the eastern wall of the Central Park blockhouse. It was composed of stones of different colors and sizes that had been carefully mortared together back in the eighteenth century. “I keep wondering why there’s no graffiti on this wall. We’re only a couple of blocks from 110th Street in Harlem. You can’t tell me the neighborhood has gentrified so much that all the graffiti artists are gone. I wonder what’s keeping them away.”
“Are we safe here? Penelope nervously scanned the thick woods surrounding them.
“After all we’ve been through, you should know by now there’s no safety anywhere in this city. If all people want out of life is to be safe, they should move out to the sticks and die in bed of boredom.”
“I don’t think that will ever happen to you.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment,” said Quinn and smiled.
“You seem pretty cheerful today. Behan’s killer is dead. You kept your promise.”
“Sloane talked to the DA. They agreed it was self-defense and that there was no reason to press charges against me. After all, I was unarmed when I went to Shaley’s loft. He was the one who had the gun. I knew he would have kept it. How unbelievably arrogant it was of him to have held onto the same weapon he had used to murder both Behan and Lachner. He used it again when he shot at me outside my building.”
“If you knew he had a gun, why did you want to face him by yourself?” Penelope couldn’t help asking. “Why didn’t you wait for that detective to go with you?”
“Because I was too fucking angry to care. The asshole killed my father and then took a shot at me on top of it. I wanted to go right up to him and tell him I knew what his game was and that he was finished. I didn’t give a shit about anything else.”
“And what do you think will happen between us now that you’ve solved the mystery?” Penelope gave Quinn an inquisitive look. “Do you really believe you and I can just pick up the pieces and go on together through life as though nothing had happened?”
“That’s up to you. I wouldn’t have blamed you in the least if you’d never wanted to see me again. No one knows better than I do how badly I screwed up.”
“Stop torturing yourself over what couldn’t be helped. It’s not worth it.”
“The real mystery is how I could have twisted things around in my head the way I did. I haven’t been able to see straight since I landed in New York. This city is cursed.”
Penelope reached out to him. “The truth is we never see things as they are, but only as we think they are. That’s the way it is for all of us. We go through life imagining we’re so clear headed and have such a firm grip on reality, and then one day we turn around and realize that everything we believed in so blindly was nothing but an illusion.”
“When I think back to the night you and I spent together, I understand now how badly frightened I was. After so many years of being alone, I couldn’t handle happiness when I finally stumbled over it. I was too afraid of losing it. Instead, I wanted to run away and hide. It was to keep from being hurt that I tried so desperately to convince myself you didn’t love me. That’s the real reason I imagined all those horrible things about you, Pen.”
“Cecil also called me Pen.”
“Curwin wasn’t a bad guy. Maybe if I hadn’t shot off my mouth to Lachner, his world wouldn’t have come tumbling down the way it did. As it is, I don’t know how much I’m to blame for what happened to him. It’s something I’m going to lie awake nights wondering about for a long time to come.”
“I don’t think Cecil ever thought any of it was your fault.”
“Maybe not. Maybe in the end he was a better person than I was.” Quinn leaned back against the blockhouse wall. “That’s a pretty bitter pill for me to swallow.”
“And what about me? How do you think I feel?” asked Penelope. “He was my husband and I betrayed him with you. I wasn’t there when he needed me most.”
“Don’t blame yourself. I was the one who really ended it for you both. I started out thinking I was going to get justice for my father; but in the end all I did was to cause everyone pain. You’d be better off without someone who’s acted as mindlessly as I have.”
“Don’t say that. I cared for Cecil, and in a different way for Behan too. Now they’re both dead and gone. I’ll never see either one again. All I know now is that I don’t want to lose you as well. I couldn’t bear to spend the rest of my life alone.”
Quinn bent over and kissed Penelope gently on the cheek. “Then let’s go back to my place and talk over where we go from here.” He pulled her to her feet beside him. “Hey, now that I’ve gotten rid of Ito’s DVD’s, maybe there’ll be enough room in the apartment for all your shoes and clothes.”
Penelope smiled back at him. “Probably not, but it’s ok.” Then she had a thought. “Just don’t expect to make dinner for you every day and clean the apartment. I’m not cut out to be a housekeeper.”
“You can try cooking dumplings and fried rice just like we had in Koreatown. Yours will probably taste just as good.”
Penelope stared at Quinn in amazement. “Are you crazy? I never learned to cook.”
“I should have guessed as much.” Quinn didn’t say anything after that, only took Penelope’s hand and led her out of the woods.
Back at the apartment, there was a message waiting for Quinn on the answering machine. It turned out to be from the gallery owner Krankow.
The irritation in Krankow’s voice came through loud and clear on the recording. “Listen, I’ve just had to cancel the show I had scheduled for next month because the fool photographer I booked somehow managed to lose all the prints he was going to show. Can you believe it? His first time in the city and he trusted a taxi driver at JFK with his life’s work. Who knows what’s become of it? The photographer himself is unreachable. He’s probably already on his way back to North Dakota.”
The dealer continued in a calmer tone. “If you’re still interested, I would like to show Behan’s prints – the infrared photos of nudes – for a month or two. And not just so the gallery won’t stand empty. Behan was an artist. He deserves a chance to have his work seen. If you’d be willing to hang the show, please call back at once and let me know.”
“Ha,” said Quinn. “Now it looks like I’ve even got a job.”
“Maybe I can give you a hand,” Penelope suggested. “Why should I have to sit home alone every day polishing my nails? I’m through with that kind of life.”
“I don’t think so.” Quinn shook his head emphatically. “Hanging a show on a deadline is a total pain in the ass. It’s demanding work, especially if you’ve never done it before.”
“There’s got to be some way I could help. No matter what’s involved, it’s got to be easier than learning to cook.” Then Penelope’s voice grew serious. “Besides, I’d like to do something for Behan’s memory. It’s the least I can do after all the heartache I caused him.”
“I’m sure he’d appreciate the sentiment.” Quinn brushed away a strand of hair that had fallen across Penelope’s eyes. “I wonder how he’d feel if he knew that the world will finally get a chance to see his work. He put his heart into those photos he took of you.”
“They really are beautiful, aren’t they?” Penelope leaned against Quinn and placed her head on his shoulder. “Poor Behan died thinking himself a failure. Wouldn’t it be ironic if he suddenly became famous and his work ended hanging in museums after all?”
“I don’t think fame ever mattered that much to Behan. To him, it was all about art.” Quinn pulled Penelope closer to him. “That’s the way it should be for me too.”
“Well, if you’re going to be a serious photographer, you’ll need a model, won’t you?”
“Not just a model. That’s not enough for me. What I need is a woman I can hold tight and love forever.” With that, Quinn lifted Penelope high off the floor and carried her laughing into the bedroom. Once there, he kicked the door closed behind them.
Monday, July 9, 2018
I generally use Photoshop filters sparingly and when I do rely heavily on the "Fade" command. Recently, though, when editing the photo shown below, shot on a very overcast day in April, I wanted to brighten it so that it wouldn't look quite so drab. I found that applying the "Sunlight" filter in Nik Color Efex Pro 4 twice really helped liven the photo and gave it the painterly effect seen above. Of course, this isn't the appropriate procedure for every underexposed photo and, like any other filter that's used too often, its overuse soon grows tiresome.
Friday, July 6, 2018
This will probably be the last Pride parade that I attend. The street closures now make it too difficult for me to continue photographing these events. It's a shame because, although I'm not gay myself, I've always made a point of photographing the Pride parades each year in order to show my support for the LGBTQ community.
Wednesday, July 4, 2018
They met at the 81st Street entrance to Central Park. Behind them loomed the block-long bulk of the Beresford, its three copper roofed towers reaching high into the West Side skyline.
In silence they walked east to where their path intersected the West Drive and then south past the lake and the loop near Strawberry Fields. There weren’t many others near about. The cold had forced even the most resolute tourists back into their hotel rooms.
As they approached Sheep Meadow, Quinn, his eyes fixed on the ground before him, at last began to speak. His voice was low and unnaturally calm. “I know now who killed Behan and Lachner and took a shot at me in front of my building.”
Penelope started. “I thought you told me the police had arrested that man Chester.”
“The police are still questioning him, but they haven’t been able to get him to confess. And they won’t – because he’s innocent. He had no reason to do away with Lachner. The old man was his meal ticket. Chester had nothing to gain by killing him.”
“What about your father? You don’t believe he had anything to do with that either?”
“No, that idea doesn’t make any sense at all. Behan lived in this city his entire life. No one knew better than he did how dangerous it could be. He’d have been the last person to follow a thug like Chester into a dark alley in Chinatown.”
“Well, if it wasn’t Chester, then who was it?” Penelope asked. Her voice was both curious and eager. “I’m sure it wasn’t Cecil.”
“No, it definitely wasn’t Curwin,” Quinn agreed. “I was all wrong about him.”
“So who was it then?” The suspense was making Penelope impatient.
Quinn turned toward her. “It was you,” he said.
“Me?” Penelope froze in her tracks as an expression of amazement spread over her face. She searched Quinn’s eyes to see if he were serious.
“Yes, it had to be you,” Quinn went on in the same calm tone. He could have been explaining the solution of an algebra problem to a group of eighth graders. “There’s no else who could have done it.”
“Is this your idea of a joke?” Penelope staggered backwards; she was literally reeling from the accusation. Her yellow eyes glittered madly as she recoiled from Quinn’s side. “What on earth makes you think I had anything to do with it? Behan was my friend.”
“You broke it off with Behan when you met your husband, but then you contacted him again right after your marriage,” Quinn continued. “I’d wondered why you would do such a thing. Now I know. It was because you thought my father might be of some use to you if Cecil became unmanageable, as he very well might once he discovered you’d only married him for his money. So you strung poor Behan along. He was still in love with you and like a fool still wanted to go on seeing you. He couldn’t help himself. But Behan wasn’t quite so far gone as you’d hoped. He turned out to still have a mind of his own. When you saw you couldn’t control him as easily as you’d imagined, you decided he wasn’t worth the risk he posed to the newfound security your marriage had given you.”
“Are you really crazy enough to think I’d kill someone for the sake of my marriage?”
“Yes,” said Quinn. “People are murdered every day in this city for a lot less.”
Penelope turned toward him in a rage. “You know perfectly well why I started seeing Behan again. I’ve already told you. It was because he was the only one who cared for me as a person. Every other man I’d ever met only wanted me for sex. To them, I was just some gorgeous bitch they could take to bed and fuck. Behan wasn’t like that. He talked to me, actually listened to what I had to say. He wanted me to be happy.”
“And for that you killed him.” There wasn’t a trace of rancor in Quinn’s voice.
Penelope threw up her hands. “And what about the old man, your father’s friend Lachner? I guess you think once I’d started killing I enjoyed it too much to stop.”
“It was Lachner who put the DA onto your husband. If it hadn’t been for him, Curwin would still be sitting pretty and your world of wealth and privilege would be intact. How you must have hated Lachner for destroying what you’d schemed so long to get. You blamed him for everything that happened and decided to take revenge for what you’d lost.”
“You don’t really mean any of this, do you?” Penelope straightened and looked into Quinn’s eyes. “And to think I believed you when you told me you loved me.”
“I was telling the truth. For the record, I still do love you.”
“Are you really that far gone? Listen to yourself. At the exact same moment you’re telling me I murdered your father you have the nerve to claim that you love me. How could you ever have felt anything for me if you believe me capable of something so hateful?”
“I’m not going to make any excuses,” Quinn answered her. “I’ve already beat myself up over it plenty of times. I never wanted to fall in love with you. But I wasn’t able to control my heart then any more than I can now.”
“Well, thank you so much for that.”
The sarcasm was lost on Quinn. “If you hadn’t done these awful things, I’d have married you the day your divorce from Curwin became final. That’s the truth.”
“As though I’d ever fall so low as to marry a son of a bitch like you.”
“You know perfectly well you would have. Even if I hadn’t enough money to suit your expensive tastes, you’d have done it if only to buy my silence.”
“I don’t know anything any longer. After hearing all this, I don’t even know if I’m still in my right mind. I trusted you, and now you repay me by accusing me of murder.”
“That’s the way it is,” Quinn replied simply. “I can’t go on being with you and pretending I don’t know what you’ve done. I’d be as guilty as you if I tried.”
“So what happens now?” Penelope asked. There was a note of desperation in her voice. “Are you going to put me in handcuffs and turn me over to the police?”
“No, you don’t have to worry about that.” Quinn put a hand lightly on her shoulder and shuddered as she jerked away. “I’m not going to turn you in.”
“Why ever not? I thought you were so anxious for justice for Behan. No one else cared, you said. Don’t you remember telling me that? You were the one who was going to put his killer in prison even if the police couldn’t.”
“Yes, I remember.” Quinn’s voice was mechanical, its inflection flat and lifeless.
“And now you’re going to let me walk away just like that? And let poor Behan’s memory be forgotten?”
“Knowing something and being able to prove it are two different things.”
Penelope pounced on his words. “So you admit that all this is in your head? For all your suspicions, there’s nothing, not a single fact that would link me to Behan’s death.”
“No, you covered yourself pretty well,” Quinn allowed. “I’ll give you that much. If you’ve gotten rid of the gun, then you’re probably in the clear. If you haven’t, I’d take a ride this afternoon on the Staten Island Ferry and toss it into the harbor.”
“Is that the only reason you’re not calling the police on me? Lack of proof?”
“No. It’s that I’m tired of trying to play the knight in shining armor. I finally realized that putting his killer away isn’t going to bring Behan back to life. The poor guy’s already been forgotten. The photos he took are never going to hang in any museum. No one’s ever going to see those pictures but me. And it’ll be the same when it’s my turn to go. I’ll die just as alone as he did.”
“Isn’t that what you deserve when you turn your back on those who love you?”
For the first time, Quinn’s voice took on a hint of emotion. “Love? Since when did you feel anything at all for me? You’ve been playing me all along. Even the night we spent together was just a game to you. I knew there was something wrong. I kept telling myself that I didn’t belong there with a woman as gorgeous as you, that there had to be something behind it all.”
Penelope put her arms around Quinn’s neck and tried to pull him close. “Don’t you understand I’ve been in love since the first time I saw you. I couldn’t help myself either.”
“It’s a little late to be claiming that now. And it’s not necessary either.” Quinn disentangled himself from Penelope’s embrace. He gently pulled her arms away. “You don’t have to worry. I’m never going to tell anyone what I’ve figured out. All I want is to escape this nightmare I’m in. I want to walk away and let you live your life.” He paused. “Though how you can live with yourself after what you’ve done is more than I can understand.”
Penelope stepped back. “So that’s it? You’re just going to disappear? That’s taking the coward’s way out. You can’t run. Where will you go anyway?”
“What difference does it make what I do or where I go? Probably I’ll fly back to San Francisco, take a few days to get settled and then get back in touch with the travel magazine I worked for. I’ll tell them I finished my business here in New York and ask them if they have anything for me. Maybe eventually I’ll even do more serious photography, the kind Behan was trying to accomplish. I don’t know if I have any talent for fine arts, but I’ll never find out if I don’t give a try.”
“Will any of that make you happy?”
Quinn regarded her sorrowfully as he struggled for words. “I don’t think anything will ever make me happy now.”
Penelope turned her face away. “Then this is goodbye,” she said.
“Yes, I guess it is.” Quinn didn’t say anything else, just turned and started back in the direction they’d come. He didn’t glance behind him.
Penelope stood looking after him. Her body shook, and she started to cry uncontrollably. The sound of her sobbing rang in Quinn’s ears long after he’d left the park.
It was after 2 a.m. when the phone rang. Quinn reached for it with a sense of déjà vu.
“What is it, Sloane?” Quinn said into the receiver. “Yes, I knew it had to be you. Only bad news calls this late at night.”
Quinn listened for a few seconds and then said quietly, “All right. Just let me get some clothes on. What’s the address there anyway?”
It was forty-five minutes later when the taxi pulled up at the morgue on First Avenue and 32nd Street. Quinn looked unsurely about him as he made his way into the building; then, seeing the security desk, he gave his name and showed his ID to the guard on duty.
“First time here?” asked the guard as he stifled a yawn.
“Yes, but I have a funny feeling it won’t be my last.”
“That’s it. Everyone comes back here in the end.” The guard shook his head at the sadness of it all. “One flight down. Take the elevator. Detective Sloane is waiting for you.”
In the morgue itself, there were a half dozen gleaming metal tables placed in a row; they all tilted downward at one end to allow the fluids to drain more easily. Suspended above the head of each table was the type of bucket scale used in butcher shops; beside them were trash containers with a red plastic bag placed neatly within each. To the left of the morgue’s door was a cooling unit that resembled a walk-in ice cream freezer. To the right, a large blue bug light had been placed on the wall to draw away the flies.
Only one table was occupied. Sloane stood beside it. “Thanks for coming down this late,” he said. “If you can formally ID the body that would be a help. We tried calling his wife, but she doesn’t answer. I figured you’d want to see him anyway.” He lifted the sheet.
Quinn looked down and nodded. “Yes, that’s Curwin.”
Sloane, his face almost as pallid as that of the corpse, replaced the sheet.
“How did it happen?” Quinn heard himself ask.
“Apparent suicide. The office cleaning woman found him. He left a note. Looks like he deliberately OD’d on pharmaceuticals, though we won’t know for sure until the medical examiner releases the toxicology report.”
“He must not have felt any pain,” said Quinn. “That’s something anyway.”
“He just closed his eyes and went to sleep. I guess that’s the way he wanted it. Suicides are always picky about the methods they use. Some take poison, some jump in front of a subway train, some hang themselves. Everyone chooses differently.”
“Could I see the note?”
“No reason why not. It’s already been photographed.” Sloane led the way to a small pile of belongings on a metal counter. The note, written on Curwin’s business letterhead, had been placed in a glassine envelope. Sloane passed it to Quinn.
“I’ve gone traveling,” it read. “I never meant to hurt anyone. Best of luck to all.”
“It’s Curwin’s handwriting,” Sloane remarked. “We checked. It looks like he wasn’t able to face what was coming at him. It must be hard losing everything you’ve worked for.”
“I’m not sure that was all there was to it,” Quinn reflected, more to himself than Sloane, “but I’ve finished trying to put the pieces together. What good does it do?”
“You saw the line about not hurting anyone,” continued Sloane as though he hadn’t been listening. “I wonder if it was his clients he was talking about when he wrote that. They’re going to take a bath now that he and his business are gone.”
“I haven’t any idea what he was referring to,” said Quinn. His voice was filled with weariness. “I don’t see what difference it makes now anyway.”
Sloane grew thoughtful. “If Curwin hadn’t had watertight alibis for the dates Behan and Lachner were murdered, I’d have to ask myself if this wasn’t a confession he was leaving behind. It certainly sounds like one. It would give him a better motive for killing himself, and it would make it easier for us to close the case.”
Quinn glanced up in surprise. “What do you need another suspect for? You’ve already got Chester sewn up tight for both killings. You were pretty satisfied he was the guilty party the last time we talked. Has something changed I don’t know about?”
“He still hasn’t confessed. It’s beginning to bother me. No matter how hard we keep grilling that lousy grifter, he goes right on claiming it wasn’t him that did the killing. We haven’t been able to shake him.”
“So, what’s strange about that?” Quinn asked. “The guy’s already been in prison and understands what’s waiting for him if he talks. This isn’t the first time he’s been questioned by the cops. He knows how to keep his mouth shut as well as anyone.”
“It also bothers me that we haven’t been able to find the gun,” Sloane went on.
“Why would he want to hang on to the evidence that would send him away for good? If the DA gets his hands on it, Chester’s as good as convicted. He probably got rid of it the same night he used it on Lachner.”
Sloane wasn’t swayed by Quinn’s argument. “Chester seems a lot more comfortable with a knife than a gun. You told me he’d drawn a blade on you once before.”
“So what if he did? The guy’s a stone cold killer who’d use any weapon he could get his hands on. If he hadn’t had a knife in his pocket when he came at me, he’d have tried to beat me over the head with his shoe.”
“I checked his record. Two armed robberies, both of them pharmacies. And each time he pulled a knife to threaten whoever was behind the counter.”
“That doesn’t mean a thing,” Quinn reminded Sloane. “In this city, it’s always easier, and a lot less expensive, to get hold of a knife than a gun.”
“So where’d he get the .32 he used on Behan and Lachner then?”
Quinn began to lose his temper. “How the hell should I know? Why do you keep asking me all these questions anyway? I’m not Mr. Answer Man.”
“It just seems strange to me that you’re all of a sudden so anxious for Chester to take the fall.” Sloane regarded Quinn speculatively. “I know how you feel about the guy – and I agree he’s a total piece of shit – but that’s still no reason to hang two murders on him if he’s not guilty. Are you really as sure he’s the murderer as you’ve been letting on?”
Quinn didn’t answer at once. He rooted through Curwin’s belongings and picked up a Lonely Planet guide to India. The spine had been creased and the book bent open to a photo of the Taj Mahal. “In the end, it doesn’t make much difference whether he did it or not,” Quinn said at last. “This isn’t some innocent victim we’re talking about. Chester’s as bad as they come. The world’s a safer place if he’s locked behind bars. Let him rot there.”
“So you haven’t any more interest in what happens? That’s a big turnaround.” Sloane was more puzzled than angry. “You were so keen to get your father’s killer. Wouldn’t give me any rest. And now you’re standing there telling me you don’t give a damn one way of the other if we’ve got the right guy or not. I don’t get it. What gives?”
Quinn tossed Curwin’s book back with his other belongings. “The hell with it all. I’m done playing policeman. I was never cut out for it. It’s your job, not mine. Isn’t that what you’ve been telling me all along?”
Sloane’s eyes narrowed.. “You’re sure there isn’t some other reason you want me to lay off all of a sudden? Is there someone else you suspect of being the killer?”
Quinn was adamant. “No, no one at all. It’s just time to put this mess behind me.”
Sloane remained suspicious. “You’re not trying to protect anyone, are you?”
“Who the hell is there for me to protect? Aside from my neighbors, I don’t know a single soul in this whole damn city. It’s not an easy place to make friends.”
Sloane drew a long breath and let it go. “You’re right. You were never cut out to be a detective. It took me a long time to figure you out. When I first met you, I thought you were a hard guy, but not any longer. You’re too emotional.”
Quinn nodded his head. “Yeah, I never thought I’d go soft either. But there it is.”
“I doubt we’ll be seeing one another again.” Sloane held out his hand.
“No offense, but I certainly hope not.” Quinn took Sloane’s outstretched hand and shook it. Then he began to walk slowly toward the exit.
“You’re all right, Quinn,” Sloane called after him. “You deserve better than you’ve gotten. I hope you have good luck from here on in.”
Quinn turned and briefly looked back. “Thanks, but I have a feeling I’ve already lost whatever chance I might have had.” He left the morgue without saying another word. Once outside, he breathed in the night air deeply.