WHERE HAVE YOU GONE?! …….. PIET MONDRIAN, chapter 29
Jan Jansen was on time for the meeting. I had expected nothing less.
Sassy had answered the bell and when they walked into the office I could see that she had already won him over with her effervescent charm. I introduced him to Ton van der Holter, my lawyer, and explained why he was here.
Sassy, for her part, began with taking orders, she didn't even ask Jansen if he wanted coffee, just ran through the types of teas we had on hand. I guess tea drinkers recognize other tea drinkers. It was sorta an innate thing. Ton ordered coffee with cream and sugar. Sassy didn't ask me. Like I said, it's something innate.
Once Meneer Jansen had settled into his seat and while Sassy was still brewing the refreshments, I told him that there had been positive developments. His eye brows arched. I got up from my chair and went to the corner of the room where I had put the Mondrian wrapped in a large bath towel. At my desk, I removed the towel and said, "Walla!" like some amateur magician. His eyes lit up immediately.
"Meneer Cord, you have found it! Oh my, oh my. What a wonderful day it is ..." but then his voice trailed off and a puzzled look replaced the joyful one, "... but where is the frame?"
"Ah, yes, the frame. Well, you see Meneer Jansen, the story behind this painting's disappearance is both long and complicated; one filled with convoluted, how should I say, side stories. But before I get into all that, I have more good news for you, very good news. I have also obtained, well, nearly, authentication for your Mondrian---"
"How is that possible"?" This time, his filigree eye brows shot up like an errant window shade.
"Does the name Jacques Goudstikker mean anything to you?"
"Naturlijk. He and his family owned the leading art gallery in Amsterdam for many, many years. It was located on the Herengracht. Unfortunately, that all ended with the War. But what does he have to do with it?" Jansen asked with a mystified expression.
But, before I could go on with the explanation he burst out with a "Godvordomme!"
"Huh? Why do you say, 'god dammit?" I asked in a befuddled way.
"Why? Why indeed. I cannot believe this. This must be the worst day of my life---"
"Sorry, I don't understand. You have spent six months trying to authenticate this painting. It is now a done deal. What's the problem?"
"The problem is, I love this painting ... but, now, I can't afford to keep it. The insurance alone would be more, in a year, than the rent on my flat. Then, my flat, to even get insurance, I would be required, by an insurance company, to have state-of-the-art security; not to mention, a proper climate controlled environment. Do you have any idea what that would cost? Oh my, oh my. This is all so terrible ..." He looked like any minute he might have a heart attack so I decided to hurry on.
"Meneer Jansen, if you will permit me? You have not heard the rest of the story." He looked at me with an expression that said that nothing I could say could possibly change anything. So, I commenced with the narrative. When I got to the end I saw that his tea cup, at his side, was untouched. He had been attentive to each and every word. I had had his full attention. He was shaking his head back and forth as if it had been an amazing story as, indeed, it was. So far, so good. As he sat there, I could see that he was mulling over the scenario I had outlined.
After what seemed like a long interval, he said, "First, I want my frame returned to me. Second, the way I see it, the diamonds belong to me! That's the law in both cases. This man, this key maker, he broke into my house and stole from me. That is illegal. The diamonds were in the frame. They belong to me." Oops!
At this point, Ton interrupted and went into his explanation of all the factors that made for this convoluted story. He explained the Israelian factor. Their claim. Whether it was valid or not, he said, was not the issue. The issue was that it could be tied up in the courts and probably not resolved until many years after his---Meneer Jansen---death. All this didn't seem to make much of an impression on him, but when Ton explained he might be required to return the Mondrian, as well, until the matter was resolved---though his ownership was uncontested---Jansen's demeanor began a gradual change into one that implied a revaluation of the situation.
He finally said he was willing to talk about it further. He agreed to attend the meeting, the next day, with the Israelians, the key maker and the Dutch tax police. Ton had had the good sense to notify them about the find and was surprised when they informed him that they were already closely following the developments discreetly from the sidelines. I guessed that that was what Kees had implied when we had last met. Ton had called them because he felt that they would have valuable input on several elements involved. Not to mention, the Dutch government would more than likely feel that they were owed compensation as well. At that point, it looked to me that not only were all the pieces of the pie gone, but someone had licked the bottom of the pie pan clean.
Life is hard! Where did I hear that before?