WHERE HAVE YOU GONE?! …….. PIET MONDRIAN, chapter 12
I took it slowly going down the stairs. At the door, I told her to let me go first. I opened it part way and took a look. I couldn't see anyone in the narrow alley and opened the door fully and beckoned her to follow.
I unlocked my bike and thought about having her hop onto the back, then thought better of that. I was still feeling pain everywhere. So we walked together with me towing my bike.
At first, we walked in silence. I was trying to think of a good place to stash her. The office wouldn't do. No place for her to lay down and sleep. I decided, for the moment, we should go to my place. A glass or two of wine would improve my analytical powers. But how to get there. It was too far to walk. Even getting to a tram stop from here was a good 15 or more minutes of walking. That left a taxi. I loathe taxis. Well, not so much taxis as in an automobile, but the ass-holes that drive them. Never really felt that way until I became a confirmed bike rider. They are like goons whose express purpose in life was to take out the bicycle riders. I guess we were hurting their business. However, there was a taxi stand at the Nieuwmarkt so it was convenient. Once there, I locked the bike to a lamp post---this was junkie country and bikes had a way of disappearing---and we walked to the taxi stand. It was a Benz, that was the favorite vehicle of the Gestapo like goons. Figures, after all, it was a German made car. We got in and I gave the ape-like driver my address.
On the ride over to it, I finally thought to ask her name?
"What kind of name is that? That's a town in California."
"I heard it in a song. I liked it. It's me." She started to sing, "I love you so, please don't go/Please stay here with me in Mendocino/Mendocino/Mendocino/Where life's such a grove."
She had a good voice and I told here so. "I'm Irish. Where language is music and music is language. Just follow the rhythm of the words, I always say."
"Yeah, but it's originally a Spanish name or word, I think... of çourse, it could be Italian, too ... And with the "o" at the end, it is probably, in the grammar, masculine."
"That's okay, this is the uni-sex generation..." She paused and then said, "You think it should be 'Mendocina?' I rather like that, 'Mendo-cina. Yeah, that's a nice sound!"
At my flat, I showed Wonder Woman to the garden house and went to the kitchen, at the front, and opened a bottle of red and poured us each a glass. She probably would had preferred white, but I didn't have any. When I returned to the back part, she was looking at the objects scattered around the room. Finally noticing me she said, "You have enough ... stuff. Sort of reminds me of the curiosity shops I would hang out in when I was a young girl." She took the wine, glanced at it, and said, "You don't have white?" I apologized by saying I had not been expecting female company. "Cord, a bloke like you should always be expecting female company. Know what I mean." And, by God, she winked at me.
I said it was time to get down to business---and silently thought to myself, but not your business.
"We have to keep you off the streets. That means finding a place for you to stay. Can you afford a hotel?"
"Hotel? I got a profession. I rent a small room for eight hours a day. It ain't cheap. I can't just not show up. I mean, I pay whether I am there or not. If I don't want to pay, I gotta give it up or find someone to sit for me. I do that, I could loose it. It's a good location. You understand?"
"Yeah. But I also understand that that red mark on your face could get worse...Which reminds me, how did these bad guys get your address?"
"Now that is a good question. I had not thought to ask it myself. Like I said, I had been expecting you and I got them!"
"How many people have you told about the diamonds?"
"A few of the girls I'm close to. Maybe six or seven, could be eight or so. I was getting the word out. That's the way it's done. Better than taking an advert in a newspaper. Not to mention, cheaper! I'd be surprised if any of them would give out my address even if they knew it...Come to think about it, a few do know it, though. And, I suppose if enough money changed hands or one of the girls has a boyfriend or pimp---and they wanted to cut me out of my percentage---anyone of them could have volunteered it...Accept Scarlet. Me and her are soulmates. The girls in the life look out after each other, but, well, the life is all about money. Too much of it and you forget your friends, I guess."
No leads in what she had said so far. I could do several things. Stake out her flat and wait for the return of the bad boys. I could start talking with the girls that Mendocino...Mendocina?...strange name to assume ... but I wasn't really interested in the thugs she had described. I was after the diamonds. That meant talking to her john. So, I said, "Let's get back to the diamonds and the john who has them. I want to talk to him. Get a look at the stones. And that means you do have to return to your window so that he can find you there."
"Oh, I have his telephone number."
"But you told me that you didn't."
"I told you, I told them, I didn't have it. I lied ... blessed be the Virgin ... What do you take me for a dumb Irish whore? Of course, I have it. How else can I reach him?" She paused and stared at me with a comely and self-satisfied guise. Then she said, "But, first, what's in it for me?"
There was that. Back to fundamentals. "Good question! It is hard to say. I mean, I haven't seen anything yet. I 'm just in it for the buck, as we say in the states. Some quick money. I don't mind sharing; and I got a partner ... You interested in a percentage or cash up front?"
"Whatever is more. Who knows, maybe there's enough to get me out of the life. That would be nice not having to spread my legs for every Tom's dick and Harry, so to speak. What kind of percentage are we talking here, Cord?"
"How's five percent?"
"Five percent don't sound like nothing to me that will make me rich!"
"Hey, common, five percent of one million is 50,000 somethings."
"50,000 somethings still don't sound like much to me!"
"I was only using that figure as an example. Who knows, maybe the diamonds can be sold for ten million. That would make 500,000 somethings for you. And that ain't bad!"
"This is beginning to sound like a lot of pie in the sky conjured up by a colony of leprechauns ... you know our wee mischievous sprites?"
I said, "Not any personally ... But I have a few acquaintances that could---"
"Yeah, yeah, forget it! ... Five percent of what? What the diamonds are worth---"
"Five percent of what me and my partner get!""
"Ain't enough!...Fifteen percent!"
At least we had the hard part out of the way. Dealing with a girl in the life was like dealing with a lawyer. The big difference was she could sum everything up in a sentence. The lawyer needed 100 pages of legalese and you needed a translator if you wanted to know what you had got yourself into.
I suggested dinner. I had bought a salmon steak for my dinner. But, that wouldn't be enough for two. I decided to splurge and take her out. Like the Turkish pizza joint on the Jan Pieter Heijestraat. It was one of the few places in town that had pepperoni pizzas on the menu that they labeled as "Americana" style. You would think that you would get the best pizza in Italy, but, no, New York, Chicago or Detroit was a better bet. In Amsterdam the best pizzas were not at the Italian places either, but at those owned by the Turks. Go figure.
Before leaving, I told Mendocino, sorry, now, apparently, it was Mendocina, I had to make a call. I dialed Sassy's number and got David, her urbane English husband, whom I had discerned, from our few and infrequent meetings, that he disapproved of me. Hey, lotta that goin' around. Take a number, David. When she had come to the phone, I explained the predicament I had with a now "homeless" woman---I left out the fact that she was a hooker; we'd get to that later---and asked if she had any suggestions. After a short pause, she asked, "Is she so unattractive that you do not want to offer her to share your bed?" Unattractive? Hadn't really given it much thought. When it comes to women, sometimes, I guess, I analyze their attractiveness with my balls which had been a flapjack since before we had been properly introduced. I looked over and saw nice legs that traveled all the way up to her hips which were nearly visible because of the impossibly short mini-skirt she had on. The face? Hmmm, freckles, I liked freckles and they went with the red hair. Typical Irish lass? Good nose and pouting lips. She wasn't bad!
I replied, "It wouldn't be prudent." And left it at that.
"It wouldn't be prudent. My, my, Wes, you are being hoity-toity."
"Must be ol' age, Sassy. Look, think about it. I'm taking her out for dinner. I'll call back in an hour."
"Dinner? Ah, now I get it! This is something serious---"
"No, it's not serious, well, in another sense, yeah, it's serious, but not the way you think ... Look, gotta go!" and I hung up the phone before she could pursue the subject matter further. The lady was definitely getting to know me too well.
Mendocina---she was right, it did have a nice ring to it---said she knew nothing of pepperoni, but she did like mushrooms and onions on her pizza. I said, "No problemo," and ordered the extra add on’s. It would set me back another two guilders, but, hey, I'm one of last big spenders.
Once back at my flat, I put another call through to Sassy and got her directly instead of David. She said, "Well, I assume, a hotel is out of the question, but we do have a small attic room for storage. I have a mattress up there, it's clean, there are no mice so it could make do for a day or two. She, of course, can use our toilet and shower."
I responded by saying it sounded great, but then thought that this might be a good time to mention that she had a profession. I'll say one thing for Sassy, she is fast on the pick- up. She replied, "Profession! What does that mean?"
"Ah..." And I looked over at Mendocina and worried about hurting her feelings or humiliating her. She looked back at me and must've guessed what the conversation was all about and said, "Telling her I'm a working girl!" I repeated the short phrase over the phone.
Sassy said, "She's a hooker?"
"I'm sure you don't!"
"We'll talk about that later ... Let me ask David." It didn't take long before I heard the receiver being picked up and Sassy's docile tones saying, "David thinks this could be interesting."
"Hey, Sassy, this may get you a raise!"
"Seriously, boss? Now it does sound interesting." I told her to expect her new boarder within an hour.
After I had put the phone back on its cradle, I told Mendocina that everything had been arranged. I said it would now be a good time to call her john. Well surely, her "john" wasn't really named "john." "So what's his name?" I asked her. "Bas. He calls himself, Bas!" Good-a-name as any, I suppose.
It had been a strange year.
At the beginning, Bas thought there wasn't much left to live for. The Netherlands had failed to qualify for the World Cup. Unbelievable as it was inexcusable. After all, they had played against West Germany, in the final, in the 1974, before losing 3-1. And, again, four years later, they went all the way only to lose to Argentina, 2-1. What was the world coming to? The good news was that Johan Cruijff was once again playing for Ajax. And that was the way it should be! Bas had been heartbroken when Cruyff had left for Barcelona, in 1973, with the largest transfer fee, in football history, of 922,000 pounds. Well, he was worth it. But maybe it didn't matter if he was back or not. This year, Ajax had signed a 17 year old player named Marco van Basten. Ironically, in his first game, in April, van Basten substituted for Cruijff and scored his first goal. Maybe he had the makings of a great striker. One who could replace the fantastic Johan Cruijff. And, a few weeks ago, Ajax had won the Dutch National Championship. So, life was half good, but it would be difficult, come July, watching the World Cup with no orange colors on display.
Another part of his life had had the same type of year: good news and bad news. In January, he had attended a kijkdag at De Zon, on the Singel. When he had seen the picture that's image was branded onto his brain, he just stood there gaping with his mouth wide open. He tried pinching his arm but his heavy winter coat prevented him from feeling anything. So he pinched his cheek hard enough to have almost make it bleed. No, he wasn't dreaming, the pinch had hurt! It had been on a Saturday afternoon. He had went immediately home and called Gerard. He told Gerard he was going back the next day with the photograph, just to make sure. Would Gerard like to come along. Gerard said, why not?
The next day they both stood gazing at the frame. Not only was the image the same as in the photograph, but the frame was too. His father had been right when he had said that eventually everything passes through the auction houses. He had bought a catalog but was shocked that the estimate was 200 to 300 guilders. His father had told him to expect 50 to 100 guilders. Gerard had said, "Well, it has been almost forty years. A pils don't cost no kwartje no more, either!" Bas had to agree.
Well, he never had a lot of money. He spent what he earned, from the key shop, on his lock collection and the whores. But he could probably put together 200 guilders ... maybe, he should make it 250 guilders just in case someone bid against him. Not that he thought that there was much of a chance of that. After all, the painting was the work of a "minor modern artist" as his father had described it. And, looking at it, he saw that his father had been right about another thing, it wasn't any good. It didn't look any better than it did in the black and white photograph. Even, now, seeing it with the colors which were dark it didn't look much different than in the photo. Something else now dawned on him, he would need more than 250 guilders. There was the commission fee, too. De Zon would add on another 19%.
The day of the auction, he was excited. When the Lot 2472 was called, he had his card with the number ready and waiting. The auctioneer called out "200 guilders ... Do I hear 200 guilders?" Bas was flabbergasted when half the people in the room raised their hands along with his. He never put in another bid. The auctioneer had switched to 50 guilder increases. The final hammer slammed down at a staggering 800 guilders; and that didn't include the commission for De Zon. He had left the place completely deflated. Could others know what was in the frame? That seemed highly unlikely. So, why? What could he do now? Gerard hadn't any explanations nor suggestions either.
He brooded about his shop for several days. Was there anything he could do? Should he contact the man who had bought it? Maybe he could offer him more money? How much would it take? 1,000 guilders? No, that wasn't much more than what the person had paid. 1,500? 2,000? And where would he get the money? Maybe he should call the man first then worry about the money later. Yes, that's what he would do. The next day, he did call and the nice lady---that he always paid for his purchases---asked how she might help. He told her about lot number 2472. She said that she couldn't give out that information. He told here that it was very important. He stressed that point again and again. She still wouldn't say. Finally she did say she would call the buyer and ask if he would allow for her to give his name. He reluctantly agreed. Then she asked his name? Well, he hadn't expected that. He thought quickly about it and decided to give a phony one. After that, she asked his telephone number. Again, he had to think quickly and finally stammered out that he was hard to reach and would call her back. He did. Two days later. She told him the man had refused to allow his name to be given to anyone. Then he got mad. But she wasn't to be dissuaded.
What was he to do? He thought about it for days. The days turned into months. He just couldn't drop it. This had been his life's quest. He had sworn to his father that he would get it. Slowly, a plan began to form in his mind. He would look at De Zon's files himself. He would get the man's name and address from there. He went by and checked out the lock on the door. It was a decent lock. Of course, they would have a decent lock. After an auction they probably had lots of cash on hand. But he was good at what he did and he was sure that the lock would not present any great difficulty.
He went into the De Zon on an early Monday morning. Few people would be on the streets at that time. It had been a decent lock and it took him a good five minutes with his picks, but there weren't many locks that could challenge him. Once inside, the lock to the door of the glass cage had been easy pickings. When dealing with keys, you kept files so he was not unfamiliar with filing. He had a small penlight with him and quickly determined what were the "incoming" records and those that indicated who had bought what. He was out of there in less than fifteen minutes. He didn't worry about the doors being found unlocked. Didn't matter. No one would know it was him. He didn't worry about finger prints either. He had never been arrested, never been in the army, so there were no fingers prints to check against.
It was only the next day, and after he had looked up the man's name, Jan Jansen---there were a lot of Jan Jansens, it was good thing that he had the address---in the telephone book, when it dawned on him that he couldn't call this Jan Jansen. The man would probably ask him how he had gotten his name and telephone number. What could he say? There was nothing he could say. He had closed the phone book and went back to thinking about it all.
Of course, he realized that there was only one solution; and it was the same solution as it had been for getting the man's name in the first place. He would have to go into the man's house and remove the frame himself. Once he was totally resigned to the inevitable solution he began to "case the joint" as they said on the TV American crime programs. Fortunately, the man lived on the ground floor of his building so it was easy enough to identify what he looked like. Only one person ever came out the door. Obviously he didn't have a woman. Then he tried to determine what his habits were. Well, for one thing, he went to bed early, very early. Before ten at night. Didn't go to no cafes.
In the morning, Jan Jansen left his flat and went to a nearby cafe where he had three croissants with six pads of butter and two cups of cappuccino. Bas had followed him a couple of times and did agree that the croissants were indeed something special. Light and airy and very flaky on the outside. It became obvious that he would have to make his way into the man's house while he did his breakfast. On inspecting the man's house' door lock, he saw it was an cinch. If he wasn't too nervous he could do it in 30 seconds or less.
He thought the best time would be on the morning of a heavy rain---he already knew that nothing prevented Meneer Jansen's daily habit of breakfast at the cafe---and, with rain, few people would be on the streets. Each night he listened for the weather reports. Every morning, he was up earlier than usual checking the sky. When the day arrived, he was mentally prepared. Nervous? Very. But he got it under control with a small nip of jenever. He made his way to Jansen neighborhood and stood at a place that was a blind spot from anyone walking down the street. Exactly on time, Jansen emerged from his flat. Bas immediately started to talk in the direction of the door. He was into the house inside of a minute. He started with the living room and there it was on an artist' easel just as nice as could be. He had brought a big black garbage bag. He put the frame and picture into it. His father had secured the painting and it would take time to separate it and the frame from each other. He was out the door in less than three minutes.
At his shop, he disassembled the frame. He spotted the four bore holes in each segment of the frame. He peered into the holes and the shop's overhead lights reflected on something shiny. He saw that a small sliver of wood was wedged to the side of each cylinder. Obviously to hold them into place. He removed the wedges from each segment and took out all four cylinders. He uncapped one, held out his hand, palm up, and tilted the cylinder towards his hand's palm. One after another, diamonds fell into his palm. They sparkled like Chinese sparklers did on Old Year’s Eve. He was a rich man. Anyway, he hoped so. He had no real idea what a diamond was worth. He had never married so he never had to buy one. How do you go about finding the value of something like these things?
He sat for most of the day and well into the evening just staring at the pile of diamonds. He never even got around to opening the shop that day.