WHERE HAVE YOU GONE?! …….. PIET MONDRIAN, chapter 19
I got a good night’s sleep and didn't crawl from my bed until nearly 11:00. Did my things and while I sat and sipped coffee, after having finished my breakfast, I came up with a perfect and easy solution to my problem with the tags.
I wouldn't go into the office today. Sassy wouldn't be there and I really had little to do and nothing that was urgent. This way, I could go directly to the antique shop without going through the worry of losing the shadows. So, tomorrow, I could set up the sting with Vic where I would lose the shadow and he would follow them home. Nice!
I decided to call Augie. I had not been at the Quelle since, what was it? Saturday night? I'd like to know if he had passed on the Mondrian photo, to his friend, at the art magazine. Maybe I could meet with that person sometime this afternoon.
Augie answered on the first ring. Yes, he had passed the photo on and gave me the man's name and two telephone numbers so I could call. Augie said he had told him to expect a call from me. I phoned his office number first but was told he was not in today. Did I wish to leave a message? I said I'd call back. I then dialed his home number and after three rings he picked up with, "Jeroen." I introduced myself and asked when he would be free to see me. He said that if I wanted he would be free at around 16:00 that afternoon. I said, "Perfect!" He gave me his address which was in the neighborhood of Willem van den Valk and Sassy. Did everyone live in the high rent district?
I picked up my book and dove into the social hierarchy of Washington DC which is often defined by the social structure of Georgetown. McCorkle was making progress. But was I?
At a quarter before three, I made my way out the door. I walked to Vondel Park and went to the Groote Melkhuis (The Big Milk House) where there was a children's small playground. Young mothers congregated during the afternoon hours sharing tidbits of gossip, no doubt, or ways of getting diapers really clean and the great sin of using corn oil instead of extra virgin olive oil. In the latter discussion, I could hold my end up. I got a cappuccino. I rolled a cigarette and once it was ready I just stared at it. What had Augie said the other night in regard to smoking? Something like, "Look at these lethal little demons. They will be with me to the end of my days ... And, hastening them no doubt." I had concurred and had taken an extra long and deep pull on my shaggie and held the smoke in until I had to cough it up. Then I said to him, "Bette Davis, when she was in her 80s, was being interviewed by a reporter. She was smoking one cigarette after another. The journalist finally asked her, 'Miss Davis, aren't you worried about what cigarettes will do to your health?' She looked him in the eye and replied, 'Daaahling, the only think I'm worried about is dying without a cigarette in my hand.'" I ended the anecdote with a big, "Amen!"
I left the park at ten until four and was at Jeroen's door, on the Van Breestraat, not too many minutes later.
When his door swung open, I saw standing before me a man with a goatee and a neatly trimmed moustache. He was dressed in black slacks and had a cardigan sweater with only the bottom two buttons buttoned. He had sagging bags under his eyes; a nose that revealed that he probably had a tendency to drink too much and his hair was thin, but still black, and he wore in a swept back fashion. He greeted me warmly and lead me into his living room. He offered me what he referred to as a "libation." I said I would have whatever he was having. That turned out to be a red wine with a distinct tannin after taste. It no doubt was a Spanish red. They were becoming popular, suddenly, in the Netherlands, as a low cost substitute for French reds. It was really not to my liking.
I asked him if he had had time to study the photograph of the Mondrian oil? He had indeed. Unfortunately, he did not consider himself to be a Mondrian expert and admitted that he knew more about Mondrian's technique in his linear abstracts then the earlier work. I told him about the art laboratory's analysis and that they hinted that it was a forgery from the 20s or 30s. He responded with a belly laugh, "What I find so funny, actually, the word in English is ludicrous---absurd---is that Mondrian had no market at the time. No one wanted his linear abstracts and even fewer were aware of his earlier work. No, not possible."
I mentioned that Augie’s friend, Ben, the artist, said he didn't think it a masterpiece. Jeroen said that he would find that difficult to determine from only a photograph. Finally, I admitted to my confusion about nearly every aspect of this whole question about real or not real, etc., etc., etc., "I mean, what is art in the first place?"
"My own definition tends to be quite esoteric, but perhaps these two quotations will give you some idea as to the approach. An English art critic, some years ago, when asked the question, replied, 'the market place determines what is a work of art!' If enough people want it, believe in it or have been lead to believe in it, they bid on it until they can no longer bid. In many ways, this fits with your Andy Warhol who defined the question by saying, 'art is business.' I do hope you don't find all this is too cynical, but that is the reality of the art game. And it is often a game as I have no doubt your client appreciates."
I asked him if he could think of any reason someone had gone to the trouble of stealing a painting that seemed to be worth very little? "Because they think it is real! Collectors tend to be compulsive. Some more so than others. Each and every collector has his or her own motivation. The strongest one is probably discovering something that everyone else has overlooked. Hubris is a big factor. The pride of seeing a work of art and knowing it is. You have finally found this great thing and it is available. You want it! You want it to be real! You don't hire someone like yourself, a private detective, to research it. You don't even insist on having it chemically analyzed. You just have to have it! In your scenario, there are two persons that fit this profile. One bought it and the other must have it! Simple."
I thanked him for his time. I walked to the Willemsparkweg and took the tram to the Dam where I would catch another tram that would go down the Utrechtsestraat. As the tram crossed the Singel Canal and then the Leidsekade I looked for my followers. They had positioned themselves well. They were waiting for me to approach the office. Well, guys, you are going to have a long wait. Like, tomorrow. I chuckled to myself and the person sitting across from me, but facing in my direction, looked up somewhat startled. I guess I didn't look crazy because their head quickly resumed the previous position which had been stuck in a book.
Vic was already at the antique shop and the Hog was showing him what he explained to be an English army "regimental colour," a silk flag carried by a particular regiment along with its Queen's colour. He was telling Vic that it was from a campaign, during the Boer War, at the turn of the century. The Dutch and Huguenot population, which had settled in South Africa in the late 17th century, had fought the English for the rights to the land. The British saw South Africa as crucial to continuing their world power domination and to maintaining the empire since it would provide safe passage around Cape Horn, as well as, control over who else wanted to make passage. I thought that the Hog was trying to minimize his verbal attack on the British from the other night. This was one of the "deals" where the Dutch did not come out on top. They still spoke Afrikaner in South Africa---a derivation from the 17th century Dutch---but they did so under the Union Jack.
The diamond man arrived about ten minutes late. Before even trying to open the door he had peered inside through the window. I wasn't sure if this had been from caution or if he was just trying to determine if he had the right place. Once he was inside, I introduced myself and then Bert and Vic. He said he was, "Bas!" I could see from the expressions on the faces of my partners that they were as surprised as I was as to the sight before us. The man looked like he could have walked out of a factory door at the end of his shift. There was something very simple about him. He looked much like a dimwit. I quickly reminded myself that it is never an intelligent move to make such determinations on first impressions. I elected to move cautiously. I asked if he had brought the diamonds with him?
"I bring a few," he said in crisply accented English. He took out a metal cylinder, removed its cap and spilled out onto the richly embroidered table-covering a score or more of glittering glass like objects. We all stared at them. Finally, Vic, selecting one, picked it up and turned it over in his fingers. Then, with his other hand, he reached into his jacket pocket and removed a jeweler's glass. He maneuvered it into his eye socket and positioned the hand, with the diamond, under the single lens and, again, began to turn the stone in all directions. He put the one down and picked up another. His selections were at random and after looking at about six, seven or eight he said, "How many you got?"
Bas answered, "One hundred!"
"How much do you want?" Asked Vic.
Bas hesitated then said in Dutch, "Wat segt jij?" (What do you offer?)
"Well, now, yes. Of course, I would need to see all of the stones before I could make an offer. Would that be possible?"
"I suppose," said Bas. I then stepped into the conversation and told the diamond man that I would call him at his shop tomorrow. He said, "That's good!" And left.
Once he was out the door Vic let go with, "Blimy, fuckin', bloody hell ... There was a bloody fuckin' fortune laying on this fuckin' table. Did you see what he had?" Both the Hog and I shook our heads, "No."
"In the diamond trade there are the 'four c's.' They stand for: color, cut, clarity and carat. These are the factors that you use to grade and value a diamond. The primary determinant of its value is the cut. That's followed by clarity and color. Carat is the size of the diamond and has nothing to do with its quality only in that it determines how valuable it is because of its quality. Understand?"
I said, "Yeah, but how much were those baubles worth?"
Vic just shook his head and with a perplexed look on his face, "I have no idea, mate...A lot! A fuckin' lot of pounds, dollars, guilders...makes no difference the currency there was a fuckin' fortune on this table ..." And he pounded it for emphasis. "... Each stone I looked at was flawless ...The color dispersion was suburb ... perfect cuts, each one. the scintillation and their brilliance, well, let me tell you ... there's a fuckin' fortune to be made here. There is enough money to go round for everyone---"
Now the Hog chimed in with, "What do we do? Make him an offer?"
"Difficult. Looking at him, I had no doubt----none what-so-ever---that he had no idea as to their value. But he must have some idea that they are valuable. We offer too little, we lose him, probably. Too much, and we'll probably lose him because then he will be suspicious that they are worth a great deal more ... And he will be right!" Vic just kept shaking his head. "This is a fuckin' conundrum ... And where did he get them?"
"Well, I checked, at the beginning, with a connection I have with the police department and there have been no big diamond robberies lately. So he didn't steal them!" I said joyfully and added, "There not hot!"
"That's good! But I am afraid wherever I take them, whoever I show them to, I am going to get a lot of questions. We'll never be able to sell all one hundred to one buyer. Selling more than three or four of these, at a time, will get attention and there will still be questions."
We all left and went to a cafe, but instead of toasting to our good fortune we sat quietly over our drinks each thinking about being rich and about how rough the road we had to travel to get there was proving to be. We had to decide what to do with the next meeting. Vic said he felt the best course of action would be to offer this Bas guy a percentage. The Hog, true to his nickname, wanted to make him an offer of 25,000 guilders and declared, "He'll consider that---as my friend Vic, here would say---a bloody fuckin' fortune." I said that there were arguments for both positions.
When we decided to call it a night, we left it with this: I would call the man, Bas, tomorrow and arrange for a new appointment. Before that meeting, the three of us would meet again and try and come up with a workable scheme. We bid each other adieu and went out separate ways. I walked to the Weteringschans and caught a tram to the Rozengracht. I wanted to talk with Kees. Maybe he had heard something more about the diamonds.
Wednesday's were slow for night life in Amsterdam. The party people were too pooped from the long drag of Thursday through to Tuesday and for the weekend party people it was still at least a day too early to begin the ritual all over again. I found Kees at the bar. He wasn't with the blond tonight. I asked him about her. He said he was letting the embers cool down a bit. I asked if he had told her he was a cop? He said, "No. Not yet. It’s not that serious yet."
I told him about the fact that I had made absolutely no progress on the missing Mondrian. It wasn't just a cold trail ... there was no trail. I finagled the conversation in such a way that I got Kees to ask about the diamonds. I was non-committal, but sort of indicated that I was beginning to think that what he had heard was all-whore-talk and nothing more. He replied that he had talked to one of the detectives, he had mentioned the diamonds too, and that the man had said that a few things had come up that they were now questioning if there wasn't something in all the talk. He said that they were keeping a tight-lip and that usually meant they knew more than they were saying. And if they wouldn't tell a fellow cop, well, it must be big. I just thought to myself, "You have no idea!"