Wednesday, July 4, 2018

The Dark Veil: Chapter Twenty-Five

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.

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