WHERE HAVE YOU GONE?! …….. PIET MONDRIAN, chapter 13
With Mendocina out of the way, I made my way to Arti. On my bike, it occured to me that I had been lulled into something that was now looking smelly. Yeah, smelly.
There was an odor about this diamond thing that I didn't like. I had been bitching that the Mondrian caper was a yawn and nearly maudlin about nothing exciting happening. How long ago was that? I checked my watch. Shit! Four, five hours ago. Sitting on the bicycle seat, and with every stroke of the pedals, reminded me that I still had pancakes for balls. Damn, I hurt!
Bert was there, of course, and, of course, I bought him a beer. He looked at me from head to toe and said, "My God, you look terrible! What has happened?"
"I ran into a door!"
"The proverbial door or a real one?"
"Doesn't matter! It still hurts like hell either way ... Got anything for me?"
He put on a frown and said, "I don't think so. My sources in the red light district tell me the only thing on the street---that's a good American expression?---anyway, someone seems to have a king's ransom of diamonds for sale."
I cocked an eyebrow and said, "No kidding? Diamonds?"
The Hog nodded his head vigorously and seriously. "I have been told that they can be had for nothing! I have already talked with a few investors inviting them to join me in securing the stones, my acting as the go-between, of course," he paused before adding, "... I would consider it an honor if you would join this, ah, limited partnership, Wes."
"Hey, Bert, I'll give it some thought."
He nodded solemnly and said, "Don't think about it too long. These deals go fast."
I had pulled out the photo and handed it to him. "This is the missing Mondrian. I'm having copies made tomorrow. I'll give you one tomorrow night. In the meantime, well..."
He took it from my hand and stared at it. "Not a bad example from the period. I have done some research since you first mentioned it and talked to a few curators and the word is out that this period may only now be getting some attention. I suppose that has to do with the sudden auction interest for his linear abstractions. Did you know that after his death, in 1944, when they were cleaning out his New York studio, that one of the paintings, from his New York series, was sold for $60? Now these paintings are going in the low millions of dollars, pounds and guilders. This will have a positive effect on this style eventually. I am glad you have brought this to my attention, Wes. I will talk this very night to my connections in the red light district since I will be there working on this diamond deal ... which reminds me, don't take too long to think about it, if you know what I mean!"
I nodded my head, yes, and said it was on my shortlist. Before leaving, I asked, "Hey, Bert, remember the song 'Mendocino?'"
"Is that an aria from a minor Verde opera?"
"Aaa ... No, I think not! Forget it!" I took the photo from his hand and I was out the door.
De Pels was packed. Friday night as usual. I had to cleave my way through bodies before I had even reached the door because of the people who had spilt onto the sidewalk and street. Finding Vic meant getting close to the bar. No easy feat considering.
I found him there. He took one look at me and said with a grimaced look on his face, "What in bloody hell happened to you?"
"I followed up on our diamond deal."
"You bloody shittin' me?"
"Hey, sure wish I was." I ran through the scenario I had just been subjected to. When I was finished, Vic shook his head and said, "Bloody all, and I thought Angola was tough! Who are these 'Teddy Boys?'"
"I assure you I have no idea. Nor do I really care except that they could get in the way. Don't need any of that shit...Look, I do have good news. Mendocina---Scarlet's friend---"
"You mean, Mendocino---"
"That was yesterday. This is today, it is now Mendocina ... which reminds me, who had the hit, for Mendocino?"
"Ah, that was...It had a Mersey Beat, as I recall, nice organ, but it was a Yank group ... frig it all, can't remember ... I really did like the organ. It had a happy sound like the ones you hear at Blackpool or Brighton during the holidays. Not like something you hear in a church, all somber and the like---"
"You've been in a church, Vic?"
"My granny use to take me when she could tear her way from the betting parlors ... probably when she was on a losing streak. Pray to the Lord. You know? Never hurts, I guess ... But what about her? Mendo...cina? is it. That's sounds more like a song from an opera---"
"Perhaps an aria from a minor Verde opera---"
"Who's this guy Verde?"
"Not important ... Anyway, Mendocina has the phone number for the diamond contact and we tried calling, but no answer. I'll have to arrange a meeting with her tomorrow so we can try again---"
"If the tough guys don't get there before you---"
"I thought of that. I've stashed her somewhere."
"I don't even want to know."
"Hey, there's one last thing. The diamonds. What kidda money you got to put into this deal?" And gave Vic a stern look that would denote seriousness.
"You know, I've been thinking we could maybe make a percentage deal with the seller."
"Vic, I offered Mendocina a percentage. We keep cutting the pie into sections, first thing you know, there ain't no pie left." I told him about the Hog.
"You said he's a buffoon."
"Yeah, in spades! But he's telling me that he's talking with 'investors' as he refers to them. We might need cash. Remember what that is?"
"My landlord never forgets to remind me, once a month!"
There was a line at the outdoor entrance to Mazzo. Opened about a year and people where still lining up to get in. The place looked like a hit. I gently nudged people aside wearing my important look and got to the door, knocked, and it was opened. Marc peered out with his who-the-hell-are-you look, but seeing me, broke into a radiant smile. "Good to see you, Wes," money still talks, folks. "You don't look good, my friend." I just nodded and said, "Hey, I look better than I feel!" He opened the door to the main room and the music hit me like a sledge hammer. The place was packed. De Pels had only partly prepared me. Getting through the sea of sweating bodies woke up the hurt that while it had not subsided had at least gotten a bit numb after the six aspirins I had downed over the same number of hours. It took me a good 15 minutes of weaving my way through the crowd before I spotted Kees. He was standing on the other side of the bar from me and I started to wave my arms like I was sending semaphores. When I had gotten his attention, I motioned to the toilets. It only took another five minutes to get that far.
In the small foyer, next to the toilets, Kees had his first good look at me. "You run into an army, Wes?" I fessed up and told him the story. He looked at me disbelievingly and said, "A meisje did that to you? Man, you are in the wrong business," he said between a series of chuckles.
I said, "I was sucker punched!" And suggested we get off the subject.
He seemed to be enjoying my discomfiture and said, "You sure were ... But, common on, Wes, what hurts more yours balls or your pride?"
I admitted that it was a toss-up. Then hastened to add that I was in a hurry. I asked what he had found out about diamonds.
Kees told me that he had called around about them and said that he had gotten the attention of the boys who worked the red light district. They hadn't heard anything, but he said they immediately checked reports of thefts both here and in Antwerp, the other big diamond center. "It's a real small world, Wes. South Africa is where they find them, but they are cut here and in Belgium and marketed both places plus New York. They came up with nothing! They've put a call through to Interpol. Should have an answer in a day or two. This diamond thing is sounding just like your Mondrian ... How's that going?"
I took out the photo and showed it to him. He just stared at it and said, "What is art? Someone really stole this? Why? Well, it's okay, I guess, but give me a nude any day."
I had to build up courage to make my way from the back of the disco to the front. It seemed like a long trek. But, before leaving I asked Kees, "You remember a song called 'Mendocino?'"
"Ya, ya, nice song. Late sixties. There was an organ in it like the one the Doors used."
"Remember who did it?"
"Sure ... it was ... let me think about it ... it's on the tip of my tongue ..."
"Yeah, think about it. I gotta go."
De Koer's door was defended by a family of Moluccans. The Molucca Islands are part of Indonesia which has over 15,000 islands in total. Indonesia won their independence from the Netherlands back in '48. A lot of Indonesians, who had been close to the Dutch through commerce, left at that time and came here. The boys, at the door, let me in, though, at first, they seemed reluctant. Maybe they couldn't recognize me in my altered physical condition.
De Koer was the largest disco as far a square meters was concerned. So, even though it, too, was packed, you didn't feel like a sardine. I patrolled the two dance floors and different bars looking for someone I thought might be able to answer questions. The crowd was really young. Some of the girls were girls indeed; maybe as young as 15 but looking all grown up in their painted faces and stuffed bras. The place also had a big gay following and this meant a lot of bi-sexual as well. This resulted in a rather diverse style of music. What you got was Motown to Boy George, a new English curiosity who wore white face make-up. Lot's a pretty young things---of both sexes---were shaking their booties, but none of it did much for my libido; my balls where still aching something awful.
Finally, I went over to Taco, the dj. Taco was gay but he had a swagger about him that made both males and females take notice when he sauntered down the street. He was long and thin and his neck reminded me of one on a goose. When he talked, his Adam's apple bobbled like a cork in water. He also could be entertaining. I had approached him after he had put Soft Cell's two sided hit Tainted Love on the turntable. That would give us time to talk and the decibel range, for the song, was even compatible to conversation.
Taco looked at me and alarm immediately registered over his placid face. "What happened to you?"
I told him I didn't want to talk about it. I then asked him how his connections where in the red light district?
"I know all the boys ... and most of the girls, too. Since you’re not into boys what type of girl did you have in mind ... though, Wes, I don't think you have to pay for it ... even looking like you do tonight. Some ladies are into the damaged look."
"I'm not looking for sex, I'm looking for a Mondrian painting and I hear there are some diamonds for sale."
"Paintings? I don't know anything about paintings. I do like photographs. Do you know the work of Mapplethorpe? He's one of your fellow Americans. He's not only absolutely gorgeous, but very talented with the camera. His Andy Warhol portrait is so stimulating it makes me almost come in my pants. Don't you just love Andy?" I told him I had a signed print of Warhol's. "Oh, how exciting. Perhaps you could invite me to see it sometime ... I'll bring champagne."
"And, diamonds? Heard anything about stones?"
"Well, as you know, diamonds are a girl's best friend and Taco's no exception to that rule. You want to buy?"
"Yeah, you could say that. I heard that someone's pitching a bag or two full of them. I'm trying to make contact with him now. I don't really need help in that direction, but something else has come up that could get in the way. I think some gangsters want in on this caper too. I'm sorta curious where they're comin' from. At this point, I don't think they are anything more than bully-boys, but, well, it won't hurt to find out. I mean, they could be connected ... and that could be trouble, serious trouble. No what I mean?"
"Rough stuff is not my thing, Wes. Nor do I want it to be my thing."
"Yeah, I understand. you won't get an argument from me ... Hey, before I forget, you remember 'Mendocino---'"
"Sir Douglas Quintet, one of Doug Sham's many bands .... killer organ!"
"Yeah, that's it! Thanks Taco, it's been bugging me ... Doug Sham, sure, that was it and a killer organ ... Everybody seems to like the organ."
"As good as Ray Manzarek's organ, he was the key board player with the Doors."
"I've heard that!"
I gotta out of there and headed for the "36 on the Richter." It was another new disco on the scene. During the last year, discos were popping up in the city like dandelions. The name of the disco came indirectly from its address which was number "36." The word itself referred to the Richter Scale that is the gauge that measures the strength of an earthquake. Just to drive home the point, a wall next to the bar looked as if it have been dislocated by a seismic vibration. The whole idea, I guessed, was to say that the dancers motivated so much energy that the whole place shook. The place was owned by two psychiatrists which might have had something to do with the convoluted name and its references.
Josh and Buzz were at the door. They made for an Laurel and Hardy look-a-like parody and they often played the parts as well. They both looked at me with dismay, but, thankfully said nothing. Once inside, I saw there was live music. The band playing turned out to be Old Tennis Shoes. Strange name for a band. Old tennis shoes generally stunk, but the band didn't. Go figure! They were playing a song of theirs, written by the lead singer, "Whites Boots." It was all about Amsterdam ladies and their white boots which was an unofficial symbol or logo? for the legion of pretty ladies that strutted their stuff in them. Did it have anything to do with angels all in white, I wondered? Then I remembered a woman who said at 30---and after 10 years of working the scene in Amsterdam---she felt like 50, and that this was a city of "fallen angles." Perhaps that was an apt observation. I listened to the rest of the set and when the Old Tennis Shoes shuffled off the stage I made my way upstairs to the cocktail bar looked over by an American named Michael.
Michael had been a bond trader, but with the current downside of markets, around the world, he lost the job and had got this gig. "You been to bartender school?" I had once asked him. "Hell, no ... Started tending bar at private parties when I was at college. Carried the 'Boston Bartender Guide' with me. After a while, it's easy. Most people order the same five or six drinks, Old Fashions, gin and tonic, screwdrivers, bloody Mary's, that sort of thing. Here, nobody knows what a cocktail is. The big hotels, like the Hilton, can serve them, then there's the Harry Bar franchise off the Spui ... not much competition; it's all education..." Whatever. The nice thing about bartenders is that they hear things. And Michael moved in a lot of circles since he was an avid ping-pong player---"It's an important game. Remember Ping-Pong Diplomacy?; opened up China to the modern world,"---was the coach of an American football team that played through the fall in a loosely organized league and he was always looking for a deal just to survive in Amsterdam.
I went through the Mondrian thing first. Showed him the picture, said I would have copies the next day; then got down to talk about the diamonds. That got his attention. "How much are we talking about? What's the quality and size?" He machine-gunned questions at me and I deflected them all with, "Don't have much info at this point. Maybe more tomorrow."
I was still hurting bad and it was goddamn late for a physically impaired person to be out on the streets. I pointed the bike in what I thought was the right direction and headed for my bed. Alone. And tonight, it seemed like a damn good idea being alone ... and in bed.