'You do. For one thing, I hear that you have a habit of sticking your nose in police business. I hear you think you're a hotshot private investigator.'

Veil considered pushing the finger away from his chest but instead stepped back. Nagle grunted with satisfaction.

'You'd better back off from me, pal.'

'Am I to take it that you're feeling a bit cranky this evening, Detective Nagle?'

Nagle frowned. 'I'm in a good mood, Kendry. You'd better hope you never see me in a bad one.'

Veil glanced across the room to where the woman was staring at him, the expression on her face frozen somewhere between fear and amazement. 'Look, Nagle,' Veil said easily, 'I don't know what your personal problems are, and I don't care.'

'You watch how you talk to me, chief.'

'You picked up wrong information somewhere. I'm not an investigator, private or otherwise. I'm a painter.'

'You bet your smart ass you're not a PI. You've got no license. If you had, it would have been pulled long ago. The point is that you act as if you were a PI. You've had run-ins with cops all over this goddamn city, and cops most definitely do not like amateurs stepping on their toes. We've got more than enough bag ladies, bums, street jugglers, and street musicians; we don't need a street detective.'

'From time to time I do a favor for a friend.'

'You seem to have a lot of friends.'

'Yeah. I make friends easily.'

'I've even heard it said that you have friends in very high places in Washington, like in the CIA.'

Veil resisted the impulse to laugh. 'Well, you couldn't be more wrong about that. But you'd be surprised how many of those street people you mentioned need a friend to take care of business for them. Sometimes I take money; more often I accept goods or services. But I'm not a private investigator, and I've never pretended to be.'

'Are you a bad-ass, Kendry? Some people say you're a bad-ass.'

'I can't help what people say,' Veil replied, casually turning his head to watch as a police photographer began snapping pictures of the corpse hanging on the wall.

'Let's cut through the bullshit, chief. The message I have for you is short and sweet: I'm a much bigger bad- ass than you are. I'm telling you to stay the fuck out of my way. I don't know what you're doing in the neighborhood, or if you have any connection with these other people. If you do have a connection, it doesn't mean diddly-squat. If you're even thinking about poking your nose into this idol business, you think again. If you don't, it's possible you could lose whatever it is you do your thinking with. I don't want to see your face again. Got it, chief?'

'I hear what you're saying,' Veil replied flatly, his face impassive as he stared back at the police detective.

'You carrying a gun?'

'I don't have a permit to carry a gun.'

'That isn't what I asked you, chief,' Nagle said tightly. 'You just made a mistake. Turn your ass around and lean against that wall.'

Veil did not move. 'Are you trying to harass me, Nagle? I'm not a lawyer, but I can't think of any reasonable cause I've given you for searching me. I'd hate to see a lawsuit or a review board hearing keep you from your diligent pursuit of this case.'

'You long-haired bastard!' Nagle reached for Veil, and suddenly lost all feeling in his right arm, below the elbow. Amazed, he looked down and saw that the other man, moving so quickly that the motion had been imperceptible, had gripped his arm and was pressing a thumb into a nerve inside the elbow.

'Excuse me, Detective Nagle,' Veil said as he released the arm. 'Are you all right? I thought you were going to fall.'

Feeling slowly came back into Nagle's arm. The detective glanced down at his elbow, then back up at the man with the long blond hair and pale blue, gold-flecked eyes who stood before him. The man's face wore an expression of genuine concern—an act, for the eyes were absolutely cold and appraising.

Nagle roared with rage and swung a wild, roundhouse right fist at a head that was suddenly no longer there. An instant later he felt arms wrap themselves around his waist, fingers that felt like steel rods pressed into his solar plexus, and he doubled over with a gasp. But he did not fall; he could not fall. The powerful arms held him up while the fingers, hidden from view, continued to press and knead, jab and squeeze, until sickness began to burn at the back of his throat. Veil's voice, soothing and solicitous, came from somewhere behind his right ear.

'Just relax, Nagle,' Veil continued. 'You'll be all right. Vahanian, you want to give me a hand here? I think your partner's just a little drunk; I smell booze on his breath. I hope he's not going to be sick.'

Then the fingers were abruptly gone from his belly, the arms from around his waist. As if on cue and conspiring against him, his stomach churned and its contents splattered over the front of his jacket, slacks, and shoes. Then he fell forward. He tried to twist around, slipped, and sat down in the pool of vomit.

Veil stood over the soiled detective, waiting calmly. All activity in the gallery had stopped, and there was silence, broken only by Nagle's gasps, retching, and coughing. The police photographer, two morgue attendants, a patrolman, Vahanian, the woman, and the spectators beyond the plate-glass display window all gaped in astonishment. Raskolnikov kept shaking his head, as if the muscles in his neck had gone into spasm.

Finally Nagle stopped retching. He took a deep, shuddering breath, wiped away a trail of spittle that hung from his mouth, then unzipped his blue windbreaker and reached for his gun.

Raskolnikov grunted with alarm and started to step forward. Veil stopped his friend by planting a hand firmly on his chest, and by then Vahanian had stepped between Veil and Nagle. The stocky detective reached down and hauled his partner to his feet by the front of his jacket. Nagle's face was brick-red, the small eyes aflame now with rage, hatred, and humiliation. He lunged for Veil, but Vahanian—displaying amazing strength for a man at least seventy-five pounds lighter than his partner—managed to shove Nagle back against the wall, where he held him.

'Stop it, Carl!' Vahanian shouted. 'You're losing it!'

Vahanian dropped his voice and, still holding the other man firmly against the wall, put his mouth close to Nagle's ear and spoke in a low murmur. Veil, his ears trained two decades before to pick out sounds of life and death from a cacophony of jungle noises, could make out just a few words and phrases.

'. . . witnesses . . . got you on the drinking . . . not worth the trouble . . .'

Gradually Nagle stopped struggling, although his face remained the color of flame. Vahanian, careful to keep his right hand pressed against Nagle's chest, turned to face Veil. For a fleeting moment something that might have been respect flickered in his dark eyes, then was gone, replaced by the cold, hostile glint of a cop staring at an outlaw.

'I hope you appreciate the size of the pass you're getting on this one, Kendry.'

'Oh, I certainly do. I certainly hope Detective Nagle is feeling better soon.'

'Shut up!' Vahanian snapped. 'Now you're pressing your luck with me! What I'm saying is that this is a once- in-a-lifetime pass you'll never get again.' He took a deep breath, continued in a calmer voice, 'We've got your statements, names, and addresses. If we have more questions, we'll know where to get in touch with you.'

Nagle had gotten his second wind. Suddenly he bellowed and tried to run through Vahanian to get at Veil. Like an outweighed but fiercely determined offensive lineman, Vahanian blocked Nagle with his forearms, put his head down, and drove with his legs, pushing the bigger man toward the exit. A uniformed officer, barely able to suppress a grin, hurriedly opened the door. The crowd that had gathered outside quickly split, and Vahanian pushed Nagle out and into a car parked on the sidewalk. A few moments later Vahanian was behind the wheel, and the car shot out of sight with a squeal of spinning rubber.

Inside the gallery, the photographer finished his work. The morgue attendants removed the body from the wall, slid it into a plastic bag.

'My God, Veil,' Raskolnikov breathed in a quavering voice. 'What did you do to him?'

Veil looked at his friend, smiled. 'Just helping a police officer—'

'You are crazy, my friend. You know that.'

'—who became ill while performing his duty.'

Вы читаете Jungle Of Steel And Stone
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату