WHERE HAVE YOU GONE?! …….. PIET MONDRIAN, chapter 17
I had a restless sleep. Everything was on my mind and nothing was coming clear. So, at one point, unable to return to my slumber, I finally hauled my ass out of the bed at around eight in the morning.
Went through all the rituals, cursed myself for coughing, I mean, it was my fault, but what could I do. No self-respecting private dick could not not smoke. What would my clients think? Jan Jansen was immediately suspicious, of my credentials, when I tried to sluff off my repugnancy for rough stuff. To stop smoking would definitely be a matter of going too far. Catch 22, all over again. Where did I hear that before?
Damn, another nice day. Summers in the Netherlands, especially along the coast, are unpredictable. Hey, just ask the weatherperson. You never knew what to expect. One year it might be three months of rain. Another, three months of sun. Admittedly, the latter didn't happen frequently; it was the former that was more common. However, this year, it had been neither. The days were generally sunny to partly cloudy. Maybe 15 minutes of showers here and there, then blue skies bluer than Paul Newman's. It was neither hot, warm nor cold, but with the breeze---which never seemed to let up---there might be a slight chill. If you didn't like the weather, at any given moment, wait a minute, it would change. So the beauty of Dutch weather, was that, at any given point, there was probably something you could find to bitch about.
At the office, I went through the mail. Took care of some other business, but generally just mulled over everything. In a way, that was difficult because to mull meant to dwell on what was known. And I didn't know much. Really, it was closer to not knowing anything.
I didn't even know if Jan Jansen had gotten his money's worth yet. I had stopped keeping a time chart when the diamond caper came along. Dumb! But, I had to admit, the Mondrian thing had me intrigued. I probably would have said a week ago that the Mondrian quest had me by the balls, but I was still uncertain if they were still there between my legs. I would stay with it and not just for the hell of it---I didn't especially like Jansen---but because it was developing into a cheap education. I was learning a lot about art that I had known nothing about. And, the best part was summed up with that word "cheap," I wasn't paying anyone any tuition for the learning part. Cool!
It was around five in the afternoon---and I was thinking about leaving---when the phone rang. I picked it up and an excited voice that could only have been that of the Hog said, "Wes, good news! I have the number for the man with the diamonds. One of my excellent contacts in the Wallen has come through." First, I was shocked. Second, confused. Third, flummoxed, Fourth, how is this possible? Fifth, In denial ... By that point, I had got my wits together and stammered a clever, "Are you sure?"
"Oh, very much so! This is an excellent contact of mine." There was a smugness in his tone and I could tell that he was gloating over this. But, back to the denial element, I was still unconvinced.
"Did you get a name?"
"Well, now, Wes, yes I did. But we still do not have an arrangement. So, all that I'll tell you is that his name is 'Bas!'"
"Shit!" I blurted into the receiver.
"I beg your pardon?"
"Sorry, Bert, I sneezed."
"It sounded to me like you said, 'shit!'"
"Yeah, people say that, when I sneeze. Sorry. Must be the office. Lots of dust."
"Oh, yes, very well. But we must talk." He was certainly right about that. Damn! But first, I needed to talk to Vic. I needed to talk to Mendocina. Did I need to talk to De Vet ...? No, not yet, I decided.
I told Bert, "Let's meet at Arti, say, around ten tonight?"
"Hmmm, well, that might be okay. It will give me time to contact my associates and call this Bas---"
"NO!" I shouted into the mouth piece. "Don't talk to anyone ... Yet ... Ahhh, we should assess this development first. You know, work out the fine points---"
"Yes, I see that. A good plan. Yes, Arti, at ten, is good."
When I had cradled the receiver, I went through a litany of four letter words. How in the hell did the Hog, of all people, get this information. Then it is my like a ton-of-bricks: A whore. Mendocina had said that she had told a number of the working girls she was looking for someone interested in buying diamonds. I knew that the Hog---beautiful wife or not---was into the whores. It was just a natural sequence of events. Damn! It could or would complicate things. And it would probably complicate things in ways that I couldn't even imagine at this stage. What a weird turn of events.
I had to talk to Vic and pronto. I picked up the receiver and dialed his number and got his machine: "Don't chitter chatter; name and number then bugger off!" He had a way of getting a message across. I left my name and said it was an emergency. I called Sassy and kept that chit-chat short, if not sweet, and asked for Mendocina, "She can't come to the phone at the moment. She's doing her nails and has just applied the polish." I thought of asking Sassy if she had asked Mendocina about the two fingers with the nails bitten to the quick, but that could wait. Instead, I asked if she had called the diamond man yet today. Sassy said, "Several times. Still no answer." Well, I guess that was both the bad news and good news. Bad news because there was still no contact. Good news because Bert or Bert's whore contact wouldn't be able to reach him either. I told Sassy, I would be in touch.
I sat at my desk and rat-a-tatted my fingers on its top. What to do! What to do ... Maybe it was better to say, What not to do. No, that was no better. Damn! And damn, again. I was now smoking one cigarette after another, but they seemed unable to calm me. I needed air! Then I thought, I couldn't leave. I was waiting for a call back from Vic.
The call came about an hour later. I had the receiver to my ear before the first ring had ended. A voice at the other end of the line announced itself as, "Vic. You rang?"
"Where the fuck you been?" I nearly screamed. I almost felt I was losing it.
"Eating my fish 'n chips...Blimy, mate, keep your knickers on!"
"Yeah, hey, sorry! But something has come up. We gotta meet...like, now...Where are you."
"Where the hell you think I'm at? My place! That's where I have the phone."
"Sorry, of course ... I'll come to you. I need the air."
The ten minute bike ride, to his flat, didn't slow my racing pulse any. The polluted air didn't help clear my mind, either. Nor did any brilliant ideas come to me. When Vic opened his door he said, "You look like you're rat-arsed!"
"Rat-arsed? What the hell does that mean?"
"I sorta feel that way, I mean, I can't think straight. But, the truth is, I haven't had a drink yet today ... And, in fact, I'm badly in need of one ... No, make that several. You got any booze in this rat's nest, Vic?"
"I said, booze, not perfume---"
"Let me check out my liquor cabinet."
"You have a liquor cabinet?"
"Yeah, sure, it's the shelf over the sink where I keep my sugar, tea, salt and pepper." He disappeared into his kitchen. I took a seat and felt the pointed end of a wayward spring jab me in the spot where my balls had once resided. Damn, that hurt. I raised my butt and repositioned it. Now I was jabbed in the soft part of my thigh. Didn't hurt as much, but still it hurt. The hell with it. The pain appealed to the masochistic side of my personality. Vic entered the room with two glasses in his hand. He handed me one, "It's Scotch!"
"What? No ice?"
"What you think this is? The fuckin´ bar at the Hilton?"
I took a good strong pull and nearly gagged. I should have spit it out, but I forced it down my gullet and once it was there, burning a hole in my empty stomach, I said, "This taste like medicine!"
"Naw, take my word for it, it's really Scotch. The brand is very popular here, Bells. Know it?"
This hadn't been my day and the night wasn't looking any more promising. I said nothing to Vic about my aversion to this particular brand and, in fact, it was medicine I needed. I guess this was the best substitute for a drug. The next nip was a sip. It was seemingly having an effect. That's quick. Probably had to do with the fact that I had not eaten since my early breakfast.
"You okay, now, Wes?"
"I may never be okay again....Everything is just not goin' according to any plan...Well, there never was much of a plan, was there, but ..." And I just let the sentence trail off into the ether.
"Just run it through. Start with, 'an emergency,' which, if I correctly remember, was your closing remarks on my machine."
I told him about the call from the Hog. I told him that I was sure that he had the telephone number since the name coincided and I didn't believe in coincidences. Not of this magnitude. I told him it made sense as well, since the Hog's contacts, in the red light district, had to be the whores. I told him that I had to meet with him at ten and now the pressure was on to include him and his associates into the consortium which was growing bigger and bigger as the pie got smaller and smaller. Vic said he saw the problem.
He looked at me with sad eyes and said, "Didn't I say at the beginning---or maybe I meant to say at the beginning---if it looks too good to be true, than it probably is?"
"Yeah ... I don't remember, but point taken ... But what do we do now?"
"Well, the way I see it, if we cut out the Hog, he goes it alone with his investors. If we cut him in, the pie is really shrunk to nothin'. Innit? And this guy, De Vet, well, cutting him out would be necessary if we go in with Hog and associates ... Then, again, why not have Hog drop his associates, we take De Vet as the money man---"
"Yeah, but De Vet and I have made a deal on percentages. And I had not included the Hog into the mix---"
"Well, yes! This is becoming a gut busting affair!"
We both sat there. I, twiddling my thumbs, and Vic, cracking his knuckles. Now I knew he was worried. The only time he pulled at his knuckles was when he didn't have an answer to a problem.
"Stall the Hog," Vic interjected into the silence.
"Can't no more ... the meter has been running for days, the time has run out."
"Yeah, I can see that ... how about we cut out the Hog and De Vet and go with a percentage to the mark?"
"Yeah, nice, but we haven't talked to the mark. We have no idea what we will be dealing with. So we can't burn any bridges just yet."
"Yeah. Score another one for you, Wes."
Finally, I said, "You'll have to come along with me for the meet. We'll feel him out. See if we can get some leeway somehow.
As we walked through the door that entered into Arti's main room, I spotted the Hog leaning against the bar. For once, he didn't approach me as I walked towards him. He just waited with a self-satisfied grin amplifying his several chins.
I had never had the occasion to introduce Vic to the Hog or the Hog to Vic. When I did so, I emphasized Bert's name so Vic would remember not to call him "Hog," I said to Hog ... Bert, "He's one of your British cousins."
He looked at Vic then turned back to me and said, "Ah, yes, our British cousins ... We go back about 500 years. All family, more or less. We've made a lot of deals together over the centuries. A very good example is we gave them your Manhattan island for Suriname. They lost the island in 1776. We gave Suriname independence in 1968. We got the better of that deal, I'd say."
Vic was quiet and after a long pause he turned to me and said, "Who is this bloody pompous fool?" Whoooooa. This wasn't the way to begin negotiations.
I tried to calm the waters with, "Now, don't fight boys!" And by way of explanation, I said, "The Dutch do have long memories and the English have an ... extended ... heritage of ..." Of what? "Anyway, we're not here for a history lesson ... Let's talk about diamonds!"
"Well, Wes, does that mean you are interested in joining my group of investors?"
I answered as vaguely as I could, "There is a distinct possibility. But there are several considerations we must talk about. First, you see, Vic here must be included---"
"He has money to invest?" Asked the Hog.
"No! That's not his function. In fact, his function is more important and valuable---"
Bert interrupted with, "How so?"
"Vic knows diamonds. He has contacts for the sale of diamonds ... And in other countries. That means a lot of black money. No taxes to pay and records to make. No---"
"Yes, yes. I can see how our English friend can make himself useful. But does his slice of the pie---shall we call it---come from your slice? I am the one bringing in the money! I have the diamond man's telephone number! The way I view the situation, I am the one in the driver seat as you Americans are always implying at the United Nations." I had never seen the Hog so assertive. This whole affair had gone to his head and all in the course of ... what ...? a few hours? He could be insufferable at the best of times; I could now see that when he felt an element of control, for a situation, he could be distasteful if not downright repugnant. I decided to see if I could bring him down a peg or two and said, "Listen, we may have a money man---"
"A money man? I don't understand. This is my deal! I'm the one that brought it to your attention. You are the one that, until a few hours ago, was thinking about it. Is there something I don't know?"
"Hey, Bert, it's complicated. I mean, yeah, you were the one that brought it to my attention. But ... but ..." Damn, what was there to say. "You see, well, then Vic got a lead from a working girl about the ... diamonds ... and ..." It was a long pause interrupted by the Hog's demanding, "And what?"
"Yeah, I was getting to that... You see, I have this guy Bas' telephone number, too. I've had it for a few days---"
"You decided to cut me out!" It was said with sincere anger. I wasn't afraid of his hitting me, but the possibility of his sitting on me made me cringe.
"Hey, Bert. let's backdown a little here ... No one has decided to cut you out ... no deal with the diamond man ... in fact, no contact with the diamond man has been made---"
""Cord," and he glared at me, "I don't need you!"
"Now, wait a minute, Bert. Why did you want me into this deal in the first place? You felt it prudent to have back-up. You're smart enough to know that you have to go into this thing with your head up and prepared for anything. That was my role and let me tell you .." I thought for a moment and decided to point out the obvious, "Remember the proverbial door---as you referred to last week---that I ran into? You know, the one that resulted in these bruises? Well, that was a consequence of this little matter ... You need me more than ever---"
"You didn't tell me any of this last week!"
"Yeah, I know ... Guilty, as charged. It wasn't intentional, well, yes it was. But you see ..." I glanced over at Vic hoping he would jump in to the fray. Give me a timeout. Time to think. It must have been ESP because Vic spoke up with, "Here's my take on this caper, we are all in it together. We can all make something from it. We all have a role to play. And Wes is right about one thing, this could get edgy as in dangerous and, personally, I don't much care for the rough stuff. That's Wes's bailiwick---"
"Yes, yes, I get the point. But this does not make me pleased. This is very, very ... what is the English word, disconcerting?---"
"It'll do." Said Vic, "But, why don't we get down to business! Time is money ... and there is money to be made! Right, mates?"
I gladly chimed in with a resounding, "Right, mate!" The Hog, just shook his head resignedly. We got down to the business of hashing out different monetary scenarios and all of them predicated on the fact that none of us had yet talked to the mark. The man with the diamonds. When we came to some half assed agreement we decided a toast was in order. Vic order Beefeaters straight up and the Hog and me selected Cognac, the French version and not the Dutch vieux. I had had enough medicine today with the Bells.