WHERE HAVE YOU GONE?! …….. PIET MONDRIAN, chapter 18
Monday night was a repeat of the night before, just a sojourn into sleep. I did more tossing and turning than I would have in a row boat in a nasty storm.
I wasn't refreshed in the least went I left my bed. Nor did I have any appetite for breakfast. I did coffee. Lots and lots of it. I didn't even have an appetite for shopping for my evening meal. Maybe I would eat out. Maybe I wouldn't eat at all. Maybe I would figure this all out later. I made my way to the office.
Sassy greeted me with a big smile and a rousing, "Good morning, boss!"
"You sound happy?" I said almost mournfully.
"You don't!" She said now with a sober expression on her face.
I laid out to her what had transpired over the last 12 hours or so. After I came to an end to the story she said, "How does this effect my raise?"
Damn! Hadn't given that much thought. "Ahhh, not sure. Everything is sorta in flux." She just continued to stare at me, but didn't press me for more information. Thankfully. Perhaps she sensed that that was the least of my worries, as indeed it was. I took out my tobacco pouch and noticed it was nearly empty. Since I had not done my grocery shopping, I had not stopped at Willem's kiosk for the Herald nor my nicotine ration for the day. I told Sassy I'd be back in about 15 minutes and left the office.
I walked to the Leidseplein and turned onto the Leidsestraat and walked along the street and to where the Kerkstraat intersected where there was a tobacconist. I went in for my Van Nelle Export. On exiting, I headed back the way I had come. I would stop at the Bruna book and magazine kiosk for my newspaper. I guess it was in that stretch of pavement that it hit me that I was being followed. The eye sees all and the brain registers all that is seen. So it's all up there somewhere, swimming around in the neuron stew waiting to be recognized, analysed and evaluated. Sometimes it took longer than other times. And that triggered the first question: For how long had someone been following me? That was followed by: Why? And the "why" would more or less answer the "who" portion of the riddle.
All that would take a little time; right now, I wondered if he was alone. I was sure that I hadn't tipped my hand that I knew that I had a shadow. So I made a surreptitious reconnoitre of my immediate area and not finding anyone, extended it several meters outside the imaginary circle I had determined in my mind. Found him! They were good, but the giveaway wasn't in their lack of ability or lack of talent at the exercise, but the way they dressed, walked, their general overall demeanor. The clothes weren't the same, but they were. Both were dressed like tourist, but a particular type of tourist. They each wore jeans but snug fitting and they had a swagger that almost spelled c-o-p. But, I was sure, there weren't cops. Certainly not the Dutch type, nor any other type that came to mind. I bought my paper and went back to the office. I didn't have to deal with this now. And they didn't look like they were going to go away any time soon.
Back at the office, Sassy was ebullient and stammered out, "Mendocina just called. She has talked to the diamond man." That got my attention. I forgot about my tail and switched into an alert mode which was ready to do business. I asked Sassy to call her back. When I had Mendocina on the phone, I asked her for a replay of the conversation. We had previously worked out what she should say and what she definitely shouldn't say. I was relieved that she had gotten her lines right. She had paved the way for my telephone call. But that wouldn't be before tomorrow. It seemed that the problem with reaching this guy Bas was that he didn't have a home phone. He only had a phone at his shop and was open only Tuesday through Saturday, from nine in the morning until five in the afternoon. Almost banker' hours. Mendocina had also asked if I thought it was okay if she went back to work. She said she was enjoying the "holiday," but it was costing her two ways: no guilders were coming in and guilders were going out for the rent of the window. I thought about it for a moment and said I could see no reason that she couldn't.
After talking with her, I called Vic. I told him the news. Then I told him about the fact that I was being followed. I didn't make any speculations as to whom was doing it; I said it was too early to make any determination. But I suggested that he could probably help in that direction. We made an appointment to meet. Not at his place, but at a Chinese restaurant on the Zeedijk. It would not be proper protocol, so to speak, to let the followers know where the principal players laid their hat and called it home.
Next, I called the Hog and told him that there had been developments. He immediately pressed me to inform him what they were. I told him, "My God, man, not over the phone," that quieted him. Should I call De Vet? After all, it was Tuesday, I hadn't spoken with him since our first meeting on Saturday. With Mendocina working at her window, she would be back on display. And, well, who knew what De Vet might be up to. I didn't know him to trust him and he didn't know me to trust me ... And, if the truth be known, he probably couldn't trust me ... And we both knew that. Therefore, I had to be suspicious of him. Hey, folks, it's a dog eat dog world. I decided to put it off until I had met with the mark.
Sassy left for home at six. I left about fifteen minutes after her. I couldn't let my followers follow me to Vic. I would need Vic to help me in dealing with them so he would have to stay being my little secret. I walked through the gate and along the Leidsekade and made for the American Hotel which was directly across the street from its end. The hotel was a monument to what is referred to as the Amsterdam School of architecture and design. This was a style which owed much to the art deco movement or maybe it was the other way around. Which had come first? The Amsterdam School or Art Deco? Didn't matter. I didn't look for my shadows fearing that it could tip them that I was on to their tail and went directly into the entrance to the hotel's restaurant. It is pictured in every book published on Art Deco interior design. Once inside, I didn't slow down for a second and instead of turning right, and walking into the restaurant, I turned left and went into the hotel's lobby and directly out the door. I assumed my tails would hold back for a minute or two to discuss my entry into the building and how they should deal with it. It did pose a perplexing series of questions for them. There was the why? The how long? and the where in the hotel? Only I knew the answers and I was not only not telling I wasn't going to be around long enough to even think about it.
This little diversion meant that I didn't have transportation. I couldn't go back to my bike, so I would have to take a tram. Damn! I shouldn't have suggested the Nam Kee since it meant taking a tram to Central Station and then a long walk of 10 or 15 minutes down the Zeedijk to the restaurant. Well, it was too late now. Concentrate, Cord, I said to myself. Keep your mind on business.
Vic was waiting at the entrance to the restaurant when I arrived. It was packed, of course. It was always packed. Good food with the best prices in town. Hard combination to beat. You had a choice of two types of tables to sit at; either at a table with four seats, communal style; or a table with two chairs. We asked for a table with only two seats. We were told we would have to wait.
I ran through the fact that I was being followed. Vic's first question was, needless to say, the obvious one, "You think it's a couple of De Vet's goons?"
"No way! These guys are pros. They know their tradecraft ... You know the term?"
"Sure, I read spy thrillers...But if not De Vets goons, then whose goons?"
"Whose exactly! I have no idea. I have no idea how long they been on me. That might help me to make a determination, but I doubt it. I'm only working two cases----well, the diamond thing isn't a case, actually---anyway, it is that or the Mondrian. Actually, the Mondrian investigation hasn't produce so much as a smirk on anyone's mug of this tableau vivant. Therefore, ergo, it must be the diamonds. But I just don't see how...nor why?"
A waitress approached and lead us into the adjacent and smaller room. We were given a table that sat just outside the toilet entrance. Good location because we were at the back and I had a full view of this section of the restaurant. We looked at the menus, but I already knew what I was ordering, Number 29, a combination plate of roasted duck and babi pangang. I asked for chop sticks and Vic just glared at me and said, "It would be easier to eat with toothpicks." There was only one way that the English know of for doing anything and that's the English way. We asked for tea. You got a pot and there was no charge. On my budget, this was my kind of place.
Vic said that in view of my being followed how should we approach the diamond man? We didn't want to lead the two shadows to the mark especially if they were following me for that very reason. I could probably lose them again, but the next time might very well be the last. Because they would then assume that I was on to them and, well, that's when things might get interesting. Ideally, I would like to position myself so that I could have Vic come into the picture but standing just outside the focus area so that he could then follow them back to their nest. We discussed all the possibilities and came to no decisions. We finished up our dinner and headed for the Arti to talk with Bert.
Hog was at his regular position. Again, as we walked towards him, Bert remained stationary. He greeted us pleasantly enough, but, at the same time, he wasn't his saccharin sweet robust self. We got down to business directly. Bert said he wanted to be at the meet with the diamond man. I said I didn't like the idea. He said that there was no discussion since he had to protect his interest. Things were still unresolved as to whom we would use for the money man or men, whatever, the case may turn out to be. I had to agree with him that he had a point. But, at the same time, I argued that to come with a parade of three persons might spook him or put him on guard to what he might have. And that wasn't good, because at this point we had no idea what he did had. It could turn out to be nothing; a lot of nothings---he had said that there were one hundred stones---he could be exaggerating. I explained to Bert that Vic had to be along because he was our diamond expert. He knew not only the difference between paste and the real thing, but also the difference between any old rock and a really precious stone. The Hog remained adamant. He refused to back down and, indirectly, that worked out a solution to another problem: Where to meet. "At my antique shop. Wednesday is my day to be there," he said. That was good. Not public and it was neutral. If the diamond man came to my office, the shadows might tail him after he left. They would be able to pick up Vic and the Hog, too. I was the only one who could lead them to the shop. I was sure I could give them the slip the second time. But I was already working two or three moves ahead in every scenario I developed. I wanted Vic to be able to follow the followers. With that script, it would be necessary to lose the tail a third time. That was asking a lot. Professionals would assume it was no coincidence and know that they had been made and that would be a big blow to their ego not to mention putting their professionality into question. But I could see no other way. I said I would call the mark the next morning. We set the meet at the antique shop for six. A perfect time since the diamond man closed his shop at five, the antique store closed at six and, most importantly, it would be rush hour in the city. Crowds of people all in a hurry. The best time to loose someone.
I didn't think it was necessary tonight to make the disco rounds. I would only be asking about the Mondrian and right now that was on a back burner. I had gotten to the point that I expected anything from the ground work I had done. When Vic and I left the Arti, he suggested we go to De Pels. I said I was going home and directly to bed. I suffixed that by saying, "I haven't had much sleep over the last two nights." Vic said something about my getting old. And I thought, he might be right!