WHERE HAVE YOU GONE?! …….. PIET MONDRIAN, chapter 27
I tried my damnedest to sleep as late as possible. I would like to have skipped the whole day, from the waking time, until my seven o'clock appointment with my droogies, but that wasn't an option.
I did my breakfast with little attention to the food. I finally went out to do my shopping. I actually hesitated when I got to Willem's kiosk and thought about my coughing bouts. I went into the shop anyway since I needed the to buy the Herald. Willem didn't even seem to look up from the magazine he was reading, but still leaned back and twisted his body a tiny bit and picked out a package of Van Nelle Export and then a packet of rice papers. What could I do, tell him to put it all back? Nah, it wouldn't be neighborly. I picked up everything and did my exit.
Fish, chicken, beef ... maybe, vegetarian? I could see that I was in one of those moods where it was going to be difficult to decide on what to eat. The hell with it. The meeting was at an hour that it would be too early for me to eat. I had no idea what the results would be and the results might have a direct effect on my appetite. I compromised. I bought freshly sliced rare roasted beef. I'd throw together a sandwich and maybe with a salad preceding it. I bought a couple nice looking tomatoes, an avocado and stopped at a shop for feta cheese.
Back at home, I put everything away and headed out the door. I got outside and turned in the direction of the post that I had locked my bike to. I hadn't got far when I saw that there was no bike there. I stopped and tuned into my memory bank; had I parked it somewhere else the night before? I looked at the post again, still no bike, but on the ground I saw my lock. I saw that it was open, actually I should say that it had been cut open. Shit! More aggravation that I certainly didn't need. I began the walk to the office and through Vondel Park. I found myself looking at bikes as I passed them. If I saw one that was unlocked, well, finders-keepers losers-weepers. There was an unwritten rule in Amsterdam that said it is not morally wrong to take an unlocked bike. If someone is stupid enough not to lock it, it's their fault. The onus is on them. Cutting a lock, now that's a different story. Hanging 'em by their heels was my position.
When I walked into the office, Sassy looked at me for a brief moment before saying, "You don't look too happy, boss." I told her what had happened.
"The very idea. Bloody blokes ... Did you leave it unlocked? Where you a little sloshed"
"Nah, they cut the damn lock off ... But when I think about it, the last laugh may be one of them."
"The back wheel was wobbly. The inside gears were shot. It was only a matter of time before I would have had to replace it. I can buy another bike at the Waterlooplein for less than the repairs would cost me. But, it is the very idea of the whole affair. Damn! I just hope it isn't an omen for the rest of the day." And I glumly took my chair at the desk. Sassy got me coffee without my asking. That was sweet.
Once she was back at her desk, I filled her in and brought her up to date. She sat mesmerized as I went through the various scenarios. When I described the fight, I got a short tittle from her. She pooh-poohed some of my descriptions of the elements of intrigue I illustrated lavishly, but I assured her it was all factual. When I talked about the new working girl that had become involved she asked, "What does that mean for Mendocina?" I replied that that was a good question, but since there was so many pieces of pie already on everyone's plate I didn't think it would be fair to take back hers. Sassy responded, "And it would be cheesy cheap to do so, too. She really wants to go home." I said there was that.
She left at five and I waited until six thirty and made my exit.
I was walking. I decided against taking a tram since they were packed during the rush hour. The Utrechtsestraat was about a twenty minute walk from the Leidseplein and it would take my mind off what was coming up. As I walked, I checked my back. Was the Mossad behind me? I couldn't pick out anyone, but that didn't mean anything. I knew now that the previous times I had picked-up on being followed, by them, because they had wanted me to. Now they may not want that. What could I do? They were professionals.
When I arrived, at the antique shop, both Vic and the Hog were waiting for me. Bert had a satisfied grin on his mug and Vic just looked apprehensive. Tell me about it. We immediately got down to business. Bert had the money. Ten one hundred guilder bills. They were so new and crisp you got a paper cut counting them out. We decided that we would have the hooker open the door with Bert standing behind it so that when she closed it, he could move in front of it. Thus, he would be in a position to block any exit move by the guy called Bas. That part of the plan was good; I had seen him in action with his stomach controlling a volatile situation. Vic and I would remain in the kitchen until we heard the hooker beckon to us.
Then it was time to go. We marched in formation from the shop and the Hog insisted we take a taxi. I assumed that that meant he was paying. We walked to the taxi stand. Got into the one first in line and the Hog gave the address. Off we went. The Three Stoogies on their way to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. At the end of the trip both the Hog and Vic were out of the car in seconds flat. They left me holding the bag, in this case, the bag was the taxi fare. Hey, it was half the price of a used bike. Give me a break.
The hooker let us in and, much to my surprise, didn't say anything about Vic and I tagging along behind Bert. I guessed she didn't care. All she was in it for was the money. And I got confirmation when the first thing she said was---and looking at Bert---"You got my money?"
"Yes, of course, I have your money. However, it must wait until we have seen the diamonds. After all, we were not born yesterday!"
"And you think I was ...? Let's see the cash," She said dubiously. Bert took out the money and fanned the notes like a deck of cards. "Okay. I believe you. I'll wait."
Vic tried small talk, but the hooker was all business and having none of it. She appeared nervous and at times downright agitated. I wasn't sure as to what it was causing the anxiety, but it was catching. I begin to squirm in my chair. Vic started to crack his knuckles. Surprisingly, Bert seemed to be perfectly calm. Then the bell rang. We all took up our positions. The hooker opened her door and walked into the hall and pulled the rope that released the lock of the downstairs entrance door. She waited there and we could all hear the plodding footsteps on the stairs. Then he was in the room and she closed the door. Vic and I immediately came from the kitchen and when our new associate saw us he turned quickly, gave a start, but never-the-less, headed for the door he had just passed through. I didn't know if he had a plan of getting past the Hog or not, but it didn't really matter because, when he got close, Bert did his belly thing and the man was flung back across the room and into our waiting arms. We clamped our hands on each of his arms. But, at the same time, I was already talking sweet into his ear, "Easy, Bas. We are not here to hurt you. We want to talk to you. We want to work for you," I thought that was a nice touch, but I can't say that any of it rhetoric seemed to calm him. I continued my soothing oration. We were there on business. It was his business. There were no police involved. Let's all sit down and talk it over. Ever so slowly, I felt the tension subsiding in his body. I was making headway. Finally, he seemed to resign himself to the situation and said, "Good!" I lead him to a chair. The Hog remained at the door, the hooker took another chair and Vic and I squatted on the floor. We did so not only because of the dearth of seating, but if he could look down at us, if would give him a slight feeling of superiority. That's what I wanted. I wanted him to feel that he was still in charge. Of course, he had no idea that no one in the room was in charge of anything. We were all, now, nothing more than pawns in someone else’s game. Pawns still hoping to get a little piece of the pie.
I began with, "Bas ... May I call you, Bas?" He nodded his head yes. "Two weeks ago, a man hired me to find something of his. I'm not a policeman, but I am a private investigator. Do you know what that is?"
"Sure, I go to the cinema and watch television. You're called a private eye." I saw a hint of admiration in his eyes. This was starting out on the right track.
"Yeah, that's the nice way people call me. Your friend Mendocina---"
"Mendocino!" He said firmly.
"Well, that was yesterday. Today she calls herself Mendocina, you know, but that's neither here nor there ... Where was I?"
"Mendocino" Well, he seemed to have a stubborn streak, but I let it go and moved on and said, "Yeah, well she calls me a private dick." He just glared at me. No one in the room laughed. Hey, I thought it might introduce a little humor into the proceedings. Relax everyone, but what do I know?
"Well, whatever, I was hired by a man to find a painting of his that ... how should I put this ...? gone missing." That sounded okay and was accurate. "My associates, here, both put out the word to the street about this painting. But we heard nothing about the painting, but we did hear about diamonds. Vic is a diamond expert. He knows what is good and he knows how to sell them. Thus our interest. When you came to the shop, we had every intention of talking only about diamonds. Then I saw you looking at the photograph---"
He cut me off and asked demandingly, "Where did you get that photograph?"
"The man, who hired me, had taken a photograph of the painting after he had bought it at De Zon. I couldn't understand why it had upset you so much when you saw it. But, when you left, I followed you to your shop. There, I learned that you work with keys and locks. The owner of the painting had someone walk into his house without breaking in. A week or so before that incident, someone had done the same at De Zon. The M.O., sorry, that pattern is similar. And what was taken from De Zon relates to the painting that was taken. Are you following me so far?" Again, he nodded. "The crux of the matter is, the man wants his painting back---"
"Why? It’s done by a minor modern Dutch artist---"
"Yeah, well, it's his style, maybe. Who can say, you know? Anyway, he gets back his painting and he's happy. No police! No nothing. Do you understand that?" I gave him my most benevolent look.
He reluctantly got out, "I understand."
"Good, we'll get back to that later. But, now, could you show us the diamonds. That's what we are really interested in." He sat for a few moments without moving. Finally, he opened his jacket and reached into his inside pocket and came out with a small leather sack that had a drawstring. He loosen it, got up from his chair and walked to a small table and dump the contents onto the top. I heard two whistles, one from Vic and one from the hooker. The Hog just grunted, but a satisfying grunt. There was complete silence. No one spoke for several minutes. During the interlude, Vic got up and walked over to the table. He didn't take out his glass he just lifted one diamond after another, turned each one in his fingers before putting it back into the pile. Finally, it was he that asked, "Where did you get these?"
I interrupted by saying, "I know where he got them, they were in the frame! Weren't they Bas."
He turned and looked at me suspiciously and asked, "How did you know that?"
"Hey, remember Sherlock Holmes, simple deduction my dear Watson. Simple deduction. But the question is, how did you know they were there?"
Bas looked befuddled. I could see he didn't know how to answer the question. I assume he was debating with telling us the truth or concocting a story hoping that we might find it believable. At last he replied, "Why is it I must tell?"
"Well, there are several reasons. Diamonds are valuable, but when you have a big number they are hard to sell. Unfortunately, others ... how should I say ...? Others, have an interest in these sparklers. We can help arrange for them to sorta purchase them ... no, that's not right to say ... We can help to arrange that you are well compensated---"
"Com--pen--sated?" He asked awkwardly.
"Get you fair share---"
"Fair share?" He was paying attention.
"Well, yes. Look, tell us the story and maybe I can help to make clear to you what you have found yourself in the middle of. Okay?"
He looked around the room. Giving full attention to each and everyone of us. I thought that it might help if he had a jigger of Dutch Courage. I turned to the hooker and asked if there was any booze in the house. She answered that she only drank tea. Alcohol wasn't good for a girl's looks. Damn. I could see that he was still debating with himself. By and by, there came a long sigh and he said, "It is a long story ..." and he commenced to tell it. It took him 15 or 20 minutes to go through the details. When he was done, I said, "So you know that they had belonged to a Jew?"
"Ja, ja. But he never returned from the camps."
"So, that means you have the man's name?"
"Naturlijk, my pa kept very good records. I have all his records."
"Would those records include where he bought the painting that is in the frame?"
"Ya, ya. Probably."
"Well...well, I think we can do business. I think we can help you. But I must prepare you for something. Do you know what I mean by the good news and the bad news?"
"What do you want the first?"
He stared back at me puzzled. He twisted in his chair, closed his eyes and when he opened them he said, "The bad news."
"The bad news is that you will have to share what these diamonds are worth with a lot of people. In fact, a whole country---"
He interrupted me with a frown on his face and said, "What's the good news?"
"Your share will be a lot of money. Am I right about that, Vic?"
"Right you are, mate. Bas you will be a rich man."
"How much is that? A 100,000 guilders? " He said with hopefulness in his voice.
"I would say it should be much more than that. Much more indeed, my friend." Vic's smile could be a winning one when there were a lot of digits following whatever the monetary sign was.
Bas' roundish face which normally had a bland expression suddenly lit up and sparkled like the diamonds on the table. The hooker was smiling too. She had turned to Bas and said, "liefje" which I knew to be "sweetheart" in English and I thought, here we go, Bas has a new girlfriend, diamonds are a girl's best friend.
I suggested that we all---with the exception of the lady---take a taxi to Bas' shop. I thought that the diamonds would be safe there since there was a shop full of safes. A safe cracker would need a week to crack all of them if he didn't know what safe they were in. And, just to be on the safe side, you might say, I suggested to Bas that once we got there, we would leave and he could choose what safe was the safest. And that's safety first, as I always say. I would wait for my call from Mossad and begin making arrangements on that end. There were several legal implication that also had to be dealt with. I told Bas in the taxi that I would be in touch within the next forty-eight hours and outline to him what was what. When we arrived, I asked to see the painting. It was the one in the photograph all right. I asked if I could take it with me so as to return it to its owner. He said, "Sure. It's not worth anything!"
After my droogies and I had dropped Bas, we went out for drinks. The Hog said that the occasion called for champagne. I said that I wasn't a big Champagne lover. Vic said, that went double for him, but, "Blimey, this is a special occasion. Just the idea of Champagne is congratulatory, bloody hell, it is!" So, we ordered Champagne. I think we had two bottles. The only pain, we felt, was when it came time to pay the bill. We were just barely able to scrape together enough money. Actually, I didn't pay my fair share, I explained I couldn't very well walk back to my flat with a Mondrian under my arm. I would need to take a taxi. Damn, was I a budding taxi freak?