WHERE HAVE YOU GONE?! …….. PIET MONDRIAN, chapter 23
Bas was scared. Very scared.
Why was that photograph laying on the table? Where had they gotten it? He was the only one that could possibly have it. The only one!
He had panicked. He realized that. It was like a scene from an old black and white Hollywood movie, what they called film noir. But it had happened.
Who were these people? They said that they were interested in buying the diamonds. He had brought all one hundred with him tonight. Now he was pleased with himself that he had left like he did. They may have just taken the diamonds and ... who knows? Maybe they had planned on killing him. He tried very hard to remember all that had happened. The fat one had left the room, the one with the long black and gray hair had grabbed at his arm ... no, not grabbed so much as ... it didn't seem now that it had been aggressive, but he couldn't be sure.
He had to talk to someone. But who? Gerard, ya ya, that would be good. Anyone else? He should go back to Mendocino and talk to her. But was that a really good idea? Hadn't she been the one to call him and had told him about this American man named Wes Cord? Had she set him up? Maybe he could talk to the other whore. She had seemed nice. She said she had a friend that could help him with the diamonds. But could he trust her? This was all so confusing. For the first time in his life he was regretting the years of his search for the frame. It had not brought him riches as his father had said it would. And now it was looking like it was bringing him misery.
What should he do?
It was late on Sunday morning when I took flight from my bed. Another night of intermittent sleep had left me sluggish; and the world seemed to be slightly out-of-focus. The cold water part of my daily shower helped a wee bit. Breakfast was like an instant replay of yesterday's in that I took no enjoyment in it because it had all happened before. Damn, I was almost getting to see things metaphysically.
I picked up the Saturday/Sunday edition of the International Herald Tribune and read through it. That killed a couple of hours. Next, I began to work on the Sunday New York Times' crossword puzzle that the Herald carried. There had been a time, in my life, when I had been incapable of doing any newspaper' crossword puzzle. A few years back, I decided that, with a little effort, I should be able to do them. I had known people, in the past, whom I didn't consider to be my intellectual equal who seemed to have no problems. I started my education by trying each day, beginning on Monday, to go through every clue. The next day, I would once again go through the puzzle, but this time with the answers. Slowly, ever so slowly, it seemed, I began to understand the wordplay and other facets and then there were the words that occurred often. I got to the point that it was normal for me to complete most of the daily puzzles. What had continued to stymie me was the Sunday one. But I was making progress.
All these activities took my mind off what was going on in my life as of this day in July of 1982. Now that things were happening, I needed simple divergents to keep my mind open and unmuddled. The ball was in motion, but none of the bounces went in a direction I had anticipated. Finally, the Mondrian affair had a ray of light that was pointing the way to a solution. Was it only yesterday when I had decided that I would call Jansen on Monday and tell him I was dropping the case? What a difference a day makes. I was still in the dark about most aspects of both cases, but in each one there was now light at the end of the tunnel. Or so it seemed.
I wandered off to Vondel Park and listened to a good rock band that was concluding the Sunday program. After the entertainment, I had a few beers at the Blue Tea House.
Back at my flat, I outlined my next moves. I would visit Mendocina in a few hours and report to her what had occurred with the diamond man, Bas. There was another meeting scheduled with The Three Stooges; and what I had thought to be a half-witted metaphor seemed to be playing out in reality. Then I would make the rounds of the discos. And, tonight, it was for 'bird watching.' A much more pleasant exercise than searching for an elusive painting. I felt like taking a nap. Why not? I closed my eyes and it was dreamsville.
I came out of the nap in a groggily and disconcerted mental state. I could recall only bits and pieces of a badly mangled dream. But I couldn't piece together any of the fragments to make it meaningful. Meaningful? In a biography of the English writer, Graham Greene, I had read that he had kept a notebook next to his bed for 25 or more years. On waking, in the morning, he would jot down his dreams. From this exercise he was never able to determine rhyme or reason from them. Didn't matter, I guess.
Should I make my dinner? Didn't really feel like it. Still too early. I was restless. That was the problem. In a flash, the events of the last two weeks had climaxed. It should all be over, but it wasn't. In fact, the next 24 or 48 hours had the makings of a very intense period. More surprises? I sincerely hoped not. The big problem was that, in this final segment, I had to handle the situation delicately. This guy, Bas, needed to be groomed with kid gloves. He needed to be persuaded that everyone was trying to help him. Yeah, well, maybe that was a stretch. We---meaning the Three Stooges---were in it for the money. So was Mendocina. That pretty much described the Israelian connection as well. Were we all frauds? I kept telling myself that there was enough money---probably---to go around for everyone to be well satisfied, but, hey, some people had bigger appetites than others.
After an hour or so of contemplating my navel, I headed for the kitchen. I put on a pot of water to boil. I took out the single chicken breast and cut it into cubes just the right size for chopsticks. Diced a couple cloves of garlic. Did the same with a really hot pepper and ginger. Then the onion. I took the zucchini and cut it in half. One half I cut into cubes about the size of the chicken. The water was now boiling so I added a couple teaspoons of salt, then the veggie chunks. I poured about two tablespoons of olive oil into the wok and turned the heat to high. I threw in the garlic, ginger and pepper; let it all sizzle for 30 seconds or so, then added the onions. Tossed the mix. After about three or four minutes, when the onions began to soften, I added the chicken and salted it. Now I went back to the boiling water and added a slab of Chinese instant noodles. After 30 seconds, I turned off the flame to let the noodles cook. It would take about four minutes. Back to the chicken mix, I tossed everything very well. Then I pour about a tablespoon of soy sauce over it all and turned down the heat to a medium flame. A few minutes later, I took a wooden spatula and stirred the noodle mix breaking them into strands. I drained it all in a colander. Then I threw that into the chicken mix and tossed well and finally added a couple of teaspoons of dark sesame oil over everything and tossed one more time. I got a beer from the fridge and the glass from the freezer. I had worked up an appetite. I chowed down ... Damn, I'm a good cook.
Once finished, I washed everything and did a change of clothes for my evening. It was what I thought to be a good time to visit Mendocina. Sunday nights, I assumed, would be slow. And what business there might be would probably start happening about eleven or so. I pedaled down the Warmoesstraat and turned right into the very short street that ran directly into the Oude Kerk before branching out to circle it on its right and left side. I took the right and then the next right at the brightly lit alley.
I was now walking my bike since while the alley wasn't packed with people there were plenty walking through it. None of the men---they were mostly men---were looking in front of them. Their heads were turned towards the line of doors that stretched the length of the pathway on both sides. From each door-window came the soft glow of red light. Red light had a magic that made working girls look palatable. While some where naturally pretty, most were rather ordinary. All of them used make up to highlight their best features; some more than others. The red lights hid the blemishes. The girls put more emphasis on their dress which consisted mostly of flimsy lingerie with bras that enhanced the size of their tits. It was a voyeur's paradise.
I found Mendocina easily. She was standing in the door and leaning against the door's frame. She had one knee cocked, with the leg titled away from the other, which gave the gawkers a good view of what was for sale. When she saw me looking she turned up the smile; then she recognized me and sincerity replaced the plasticky element of the smile. She opened the door and said, "Mr. Private Dick. How they hanging?"
"Hi, Mendocina ... Ahhh, was that meant to be funny ...? Since our confrontation I haven't had the nerve to take a look."
"Do come in. you came at the right time. Things are slow...And I am truly sorry for that. Really, I am. Maybe I can make it up to you ... in some way ... when you’re feeling up to it. If you know what I mean." And she winked at me. It was a nice wink, too. She closed the door and pulled the drape. There was a chair and I sat in it and she took the bed. Her sitting on the bed and what she had implied gave me ideas ...
"Well, yes, there is that!" But I was getting distracted from business and Mendocina was strictly business, especially now. So I got on with it, "We have a problem ..." I saw a flicker of fear in her eyes so I quickly added, "It's no problem between you and me, but with this Bas guy."
I ran through the story and brought her up-to-date. I left out mention of Mossad, De Vet and all other extraneous matter that would distract from the main reason I was there. I said I had to talk with this guy, Bas, and as soon as possible. I told her his shop was closed on both Sunday and Monday and he had no home phone, so the earliest would be Tuesday and that could be too late. I was worried at what he might do. I told her that I was sure he was scared, nervous and very upset. I was hoping that he might come to her, but I wasn't sure that he would. She listened carefully. When I had finished, she said, "What you want me to do is calm him. Explain to him that you are trying to help him."
"That's it in a nutshell. Make sure he understands that I have been looking for this certain painting. I'm now sure he is the one that took it so he is probably worried about being arrested and it has spooked him. Tell him not to be. We can talk about all this. If you think it will make him feel better, you can say you will join us. Just win him over to our side." I left it with that. I told her to call me anytime day or night at my home or office and, if I didn't answer either phone, to call Sassy.
I headed to the Arti for my meeting with Vic and the Hog. I was biking down the Nes when I realized I had to piss real bad. I was just coming up to De Brakke Grond which is the Belgium cultural center. They had a public toilet. I turned into their court yard, locked my bike and went inside, but as I was going through the door I spotted two guys as they turned their bikes into the courtyard. One of them looked familiar. Our first---and last---meeting had not been that long ago. It had been at Mendocina's flat. I was being followed again. This time by amateurs. That was consoling. Sort of. There were two. So, I did my business and exited from the building scanning the small square for my nemeses. I didn't see them. I proceeded slowly to my bike and unlocked it. Still no sign of them. I got on and continued my ride down the Nes and at each corner that lead to a small alley I approached it on guard. I made it to the end of the Nes and turned right and crossed the Rokin and was at the entrance to the Arti. As I locked my bike, I made a surreptitious scan of the area. I found one of them and determined that the other was somewhere close by. I would deal with this, later.
Once inside, I looked to the bar but I didn't see the Hog nor Vic. I began a 360 degree reconnoitre of the big rooms and spotted them at a corner table looking forlorn. I went over to them. Vic saw me first and nudge the Hog and he motioned to the free chair. I sat. Vic said, "Wel l..." and then the Hog said, "Well ..." but neither got any further; so I finally said, "Well ..." and after a long pause uttered, "I've been thinking---"
"Haven't we all, mate. But it hasn't gotten me very far. Bert says he's having trepidations that interfere with his thinking ... I understand that, too."
"You've already said that." Vic was showing impatience.
"Yeah, sorry, but...well...let me see..." I went on to tell them about my talk with Mendocina and my hopes that she might be able to set up something. I said that I thought I had better talk with our Israelian counterparts---counterparts? that was a laugh. As Vic had said, they were in the driver's seat. Finally, I got around to mentioning that I was being followed by two of De Vet's hoods.
Vic said, "As much as I abhor violence I think it would be advisable for Bert and me----if Bert is in agreement, of course---to follow you out the door. We can go around the block with these scoundrels in tow and perhaps approach them in a rat cunning way---"
"Rat cunning?" Asked Bert.
"An Australian expression. Down under it means 'clever’."
"Okay, clever. What exactly does that entail." I asked dubiously.
"You know that small area just off the Spui with all the interconnecting alleys? You know, where Pasquale, the Italian barber is located?" Both the Hog and I nodded that we did.
"Well, we lead them into the maze. Sunday night, now, no one is about. We turn a corner and wait 'til they turn the same corner and pounce. That should send a message back to their boss." He ended the scenario with a smirk on his face. I looked over at Bert, he said, "That sounds like a jolly good show!" And Vic echoed, "You got it, mate!" I thought, Why not? And said, "Let's do it so I can get these morons off my back."
We all left together. Once outside, of the Arti, we turned right and walked 15 meters to the side street and made another right. I turned to my associates and said that one was already behind us. We walked to where the Kalverstraat crossed the street and continued in a straight line for another 30 or so meters then made a right and headed for the small alleys. It was an area that wasn't that well lit. No shops were open this late and there was only one or two cafes and they were really small joints that with 20 people looked packed. Perfect location for the purpose we had in mind. We turned down one small alley and stopped. Not more than 15 or so seconds went by when two guys came around the corner. They saw us instantly and the one raised his hand and inserted two fingers into his mouth and a shrill whistle broke the night air like a ships fog horn.
I went for the one that I had kicked in the balls and he took a stance that indicated it wouldn't be easy to do it again. I sensed with my peripheral vision movement, in the alley, about 20 meters away. I took a swing which allowed me to turn in the direction of the approaching blurs and counted three or four men advancing like a herd of cattle in stampede. Oh, oh, now we're in for it. I looked over at Vic and saw that he was in a classic boxers stance that you only see in a collegiate ring environment. I made another swing and connected to the man's sternum which stunned him just a trifle and then checked out the Hog. I nearly burst out laughing. Bert's attacker couldn't get close to him. Every time he tried, the Hog just used his stomach to fling him backwards. It was an exercise in futility. Nice tactic. I liked it.
At just about that moment, I felt someone at my back. The reinforcements had arrived and they were not on our side. I was thinking that this rat cunning was not working in the way I had been led to expect. There was the potential that we would get the rat-fucking piss beat out of us. I angled my body away from the two aggressors trying to put both of them in front of me. I tried a karate kick to the one's knee but missed. I tried another to his friend and, damn, missed again only connecting with his thigh which, at least, did seem to hurt. Honest folks, it ain't as easy as it looks in those Kung Fu movies. Where was Bruce Lee when I needed him? I looked over and saw two guys on Bert, but his stomach technique kept them at bay; and the best part was it looked as if he had yet to break into a sweat. Vic was holding his own with his fists held high and a dance routine that would have made Fred Astaire envious. I was holding my own, too, but I was tiring. I was gasping for breath and trying to keep a clear head.
Suddenly, the other man, I was doing fisty-cuffs with, circled around me and once again tried throwing his arms around my chest. He got them there just as I noticed that the wiseguy I had kicked in the balls was about to butt me in the face with his forehead. My reflexes---propelled by fear---took over. I didn't try to break the grip, the one man had on me, as much as slide from it. I went down just as the other man's head came roaring towards me. I heard a crunch of breaking bones and cartledge. A scream broke into the night. Gosh, just like in the comic books. Cool. However, I didn't pause and, again, without thinking, I reached for the head-butters balls. I knew where they were. I was staring at his crotch. We were really become intimate you might say. I clamped onto to them with as much strength as I could put into the action. Another scream broke into the night. But this one persisted. Then "Let go! Let go!" intermingled with the blood curdling cry. I answered the request by applying more pressure. He was slumping down and his hips were twisting to and fro trying to break my hold. Finally, I released my grip and stood up and gave him a short punch to his larynx. But not too hard. I neither wanted to kill him nor put him in a comatose state. I just wanted him disabled enough so I could talk to him. He now grabbed at his neck and was gagging. Fighting for air. While this was going on, I looked over at how the others were doing. The Hog was just standing there glaring at the two guys who were staggering about on wobbly legs and breathing hard trying to think of a way to attack. Vic had floored one opponent and the other didn't appear to be any match for his structured fighting pose. I decided to give Bert a hand though he didn't really require it. I came up from behind the one and gave him a quick karate chop behind the ear. He went down fast. The other turned to see what all the excitement was and suddenly decided he had to be somewhere else and took off in a real rush to get there. By now Vic was coordinating his blows in a nice neat pattern like he was working a speed punching bag. He didn't need any help.
I went back to my good buddy, the one with the dislocated balls. It was time we talked again. Perhaps this time he would get the message not to mention deliver a message I wanted delivered. I grabbed him by his shirt color and pulled him towards my face and spit out with spittle and all---just to make an impression---this, "Tell De Vet I got his message! And this is my reply. His reapplication for membership in the 'I Love Wes Cord' club has been rejected. Got that, peon? It's return to sender. Can you remember all that?"
He tried to talk and ended up coughing. He tried again and got out, "You mean ... tell him...to go...fuck himself?"
"Close enough, kid. You're smarter than I thought. Now get the fuck out of here and take your friends with you."
He struggled to his feet and looked around and saw the carnage and went to help one of Vic's victims to his feet. Presently, the four of them staggered away.
Hog, with a big smile on his face, said, "I think this calls for a drink!"
"Blimy, hell, mate, this calls for a binge."
I said, "Sounds good to me!"