Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The Dark Veil: Chapter Twenty-Six (Final Chapter)

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.

The End

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