he couldn't use the arm.'

'Anything else?'

'No. It happened pretty quickly.'

The detective replaced the pen and pad in his pocket, then studied Veil for a few moments. 'You're very observant,' he said, raising his eyebrows slightly. 'It looks like you've earned your reputation.'

'What reputation?' Veil asked carefully.

Vahanian shook his head. 'It's not important.'

'Victor Raskolnikov is a friend as well as my dealer. If there's a police line outside the gallery, I'd appreciate it if you'd take me past. I'd like to see if he's all right.'

The detective nodded in the direction of his car. 'I was going to ask you to come along, anyway. My partner may want to ask you some questions.'

'Give me a minute. There's something—' Veil glanced down the sidewalk toward the fire hydrant where he had left his painting, and sighed with resignation.

'What's the matter?'

'Nothing,' Veil said, walking toward the detective's car.

Vahanian got in, turned on the engine. He backed off the sidewalk, made a tight turn, then made his way slowly back down Sixty-ninth, weaving through an obstacle course of police cars and emergency vehicles. He pulled up on the sidewalk around the corner from the gallery, and Veil followed him through the throng that was gathered at the front and struggling for position in order to see in through the huge display window. There were audible gasps from some of the men and women. As they entered the building a helicopter flew overhead, heading for Central Park.

The long and narrow room inside the entrance—one of four display areas comprising the gallery—was filled with an eclectic mix of primitive art and modern paintings, including three of Veil's. At the end of the room, to the left of a vaulted archway leading to another area, the pedestal on which the Nal-toon had been displayed stood empty, like some wooden creature that had been decapitated. Victor Raskolnikov, impeccably dressed in a dark blue suit and gray silk vest, was standing in a pile of broken glass, steadying himself by leaning on the pedestal. Ashen- faced, obviously badly shaken, the portly Russian was trying hard not to look across the room to where the sagging corpse of a young, uniformed security guard was pinned to the wall by the long, razor-sharp head of an African ceremonial spear that had skewered the man's chest almost in the exact center; blood had spattered over one of Veil's paintings, hung to the left and slightly above the guard's head.

To Veil's right, a few yards inside the entrance, a huge, hulking man who he assumed was a detective was questioning a frail, trembling woman whom Veil judged to be in her mid- or late twenties. The man's back was to him, but he could see the woman's face—and she was clearly terrified. Her face was virtually bloodless, made to seem even whiter by the shimmering blue-black of her long hair and her large black eyes. She kept shaking her head, as if she were denying something. Occasionally a thin, tapered hand would brush away a strand of hair or pluck at her thin lower lip in a curiously birdlike motion.

The woman saw Vahanian, reached a trembling hand out toward him. 'Is Toby all right?' she asked in a quavering voice.

Vahanian turned to her, but before he could answer, the huge man took a step to his left and, like some tropical moon, eclipsed the woman from sight. The man's voice came across the room to Veil's ears as a low, slightly menacing rumble.

'Veil!' The Russian who was his friend and mentor lumbered like some circus bear down the length of the room, threw his thick arms around Veil, and kissed him on both cheeks. 'God, I'm glad to see you here. This is a terrible, terrible thing.'

Veil once again glanced over to where the hulking detective was questioning the woman. Something was wrong, he thought; he was becoming increasingly certain that the woman was terrified of the man, not the situation.,

Vahanian walked over to the other man, and both detectives stepped aside and huddled for a whispered conference while the woman stared down at her feet and hugged herself, as if she were broken inside. Once, the big man looked back over his shoulder, and Veil found himself looking into a round, doughy face with small eyes that reminded him of two raisins lost in a pie; there seemed to be no light, no life, in them. Huge, gnarled hands closed into fists, then relaxed again. Veil held the man's gaze for a few moments, then abruptly turned to his friend.

'What happened, Victor?'

Raskolnikov spread his arms out to his sides in a gesture of helplessness. 'I couldn't stop it, Veil. Everything just happened too quickly. Now this man I hired to guard the statue is dead.'

'How did it happen?'

'The young woman over there came in with a young man. The man, he had a very strange look in his eyes— and he was looking at the statue from the moment he came in the door. He never said a word, just started walking straight toward the statue. The woman screamed and tried to stop him; she grabbed his arm and shouted at him in this funny language, like nothing I've ever heard before—click! click! click! Very strange. The man just pushed her away, grabbed one of the spears off the wall, and used it to smash the glass case over the statue. He moved so fast that he caught Frank—the guard—by surprise. Frank yelled at the man to stop, and when he didn't, Frank kind of panicked, I guess. He drew his gun and fired—hit the man in the shoulder, I think. Then the man threw the spear at Frank. Veil, I've never seen anyone move that fast. One moment Frank was aiming and getting ready to fire again, and the next moment he was dead.' The Russian paused, swallowed hard, then gestured toward the opposite wall without looking at it. 'Like that.'

'Your guard did hit the man, Victor. I saw him. He escaped into Central Park after causing the damnedest chain collision you've ever seen on Fifth. But they should have him soon. By now there'll be an army of cops beating the bushes for him, and they're using a helicopter. I just hope your statue isn't damaged.'

'I don't give a damn about that statue!' Tears suddenly glistened in the art dealer's eyes. 'I paid a lousy three thousand dollars for it. What's three thousand dollars— what's anything?—compared to a man's life? The newspapers sure as hell made a big stink about it, but they couldn't tell me what I should do with the damn thing. The police wouldn't take it off my hands because they said it was legally mine. The United Nations made a stink, too, but they wouldn't take it. If they took it, then they wouldn't have anything to make a stink about. I didn't want to sell it to just anyone, Veil, because I felt very deeply in my heart for that tribe. All I wanted was my money back, and that didn't seem unreasonable. Then this gangster business came up and the courts said I couldn't sell it to anyone until a complete investigation had been made, but the judges wouldn't take it off my hands, either. Hell, I figured I might as well keep the statue on display for the publicity value. But I didn't want the tribe to lose it to some thief, so I hired a guard to make certain it stayed safe until somebody told me what I was allowed to do with it. I simply should have sent it back to the tribe in the beginning. Then I wouldn't be responsible for this man's death.'

'Take it easy, Victor,' Veil said evenly. 'You aren't responsible for anything but being a very decent man caught in a bind and trying to find the right thing to do. You didn't fire a gun to protect a piece of wood, and you didn't throw the spear.'

'Are you Veil Kendry?'

Veil turned to find the big man with the doughy face and dead, raisin eyes standing very close behind him. 'I'm Kendry,' he replied evenly.

'You've met Detective Vahanian,' the big man said in a rumbling, phlegmy voice as he jerked a thumb in the general direction of the dark-complexioned man who was standing off to one side, trying not to look embarrassed. 'I'm Detective Nagle. I understand you witnessed what went on up the street.'

'Yes. As I told your partner—'

'I know what you told my partner, and I don't need to hear it again. You're the one who needs to be told something.'

'You sound like a man with heavy things on his mind,' Veil said in a neutral, flat tone. 'Why don't you unload them?'

Nagle leaned even closer, to the point where his face was only inches from Veil's, and Veil could smell beer and garlic on the man's breath. 'You've got a bad rep, Kendry,' Nagle rumbled, planting the thick index finger of his right hand in the center of Veil's chest.

'Do I?'

Вы читаете Jungle Of Steel And Stone
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