WHERE HAVE YOU GONE?! …….. PIET MONDRIAN, chapter 21
The clock radio said it was nearly eight a.m. and I was feeling seasick from my night-long voyage of tossing-and-turning. I stayed under the shower longer than I normally did hoping that that would get the blood circulating.
And when it came time for breakfast, I mulled over various menus trying to come up with something different. Who knew, maybe it would be my last meal. Of course, it was that factor---or to be more direct---the factor that I had possibly the Mossad on my tail---and literally---which was creating so much consternation. I had had a couple professional contacts with their agents when I was with the Bureau. That had left me with respect for their abilities and determination. When I had told Vic that they could be ruthless, I wasn't slinging out idle adjectives. They were. Being on their wrong side was bad! Very bad. McCorkle wasn't much help, but then again, I read only three or four pages before I realized I hadn't taken anything in. I was reading words, but not listening. My mind was stuck in reality; and reality has a way of sucking. I put the book down. I really should do some grocery shopping, but I just didn't feel like it. Nothing took my mind off food like anxiety attacks.
I had to work out a plan on how to deal with my shadows. Dodging them would do little good. They always knew where to find me at least some of the times. Though that was not convenient, it was a fact. So avoiding them, trying to avoid them and/or hoping that they would just one day disappear did not seem to be real options. There was only one thing that was logical and only one thing that could possibly resolve the situation: confrontation. But benign confrontation. I was in no condition to fight them at this given time. The soreness from my first meeting with Mendocina was nearly gone, but I still felt a bit sluggish in my movements.
I got on the horn and rang Vic. I told him what I had decided and said I needed back up. He was silent for what seems like minutes and finally said, "I do want to avoid these characters, Wes, I really do. But you gotta tell me how can I be of assistance without really assisting, how should I say ... overtly."
"Well, Vic, I am in complete agreement with you on this issue. However, I see a confrontation with them to be the only logical thing to do. Get the shit out of the way, so to say, and it won't hit the fan and go all over the place. Know what I mean? Find out if it is the diamonds that has got their interest or ... " My voice just trailed off following my mind to any other possibility that could be possible but, again, nothing else came into focus. I told him that I would be at the entrance to the Leidsekade in 30 minutes. For his part, he said it was doable.
At the bridge, I scanned the area and picked up Vic and then both of my shadows; I had the funny feeling that it had been too easy. Which one should I approach first? The back-up. He was the one standing out in the crowd. He would be the weaker one if that term had any relevancy here or not. I started to walk towards him expecting that he would take some sort of evasive action. He didn't. In fact, his eyes locked on mine. He showed no emotion, no fear, no surprise, no nothing. When I got up to him, I said, "Why don't me, you and ..." I took my eyes off him and looked in the direction where I had last seen his partner and said, "... your friend there, have a talk?"
He replied, "Let's ask my friend what he thinks about that," and nodded his head in the direction I had looked. His partner swaggered over to us, with a half smile on his face, and when he was about two meters from me, he said, "Alas, we have finally gotten your attention!" Well, that surprised me. I hadn't expected that. No not at all. I had to think on it. This guy---and maybe the two of them---weren't as dumb as I had hoped they would be. "Ahhh, I see ..." But I really didn't. Not at all. What was the game they were playing? Was I the mouse to the cat? "... Yeah, perhaps we can talk?"
"Sure. That would be nice. Where you want to talk?"
"Hey, I like the fresh air. This is as good a place as any. Don't you think?"
"Nah. I would prefer your office ..." He paused, turned his head towards where Vic was standing and said, "Maybe you would like for your guy to join us. You know, make it one-on-one if need be ... By the way, where are his balloons today?"
Damn! I looked at the man like I was seeing him was for the first time. These guys weren't trainees for anyone. They were pros and I said about the balloons, "They're on the moon by now!" I looked over to Vic and signaled for him to join us. That got a start. He stared back at me and taking his thumb he pointed it at his chest and mimed, "Me?" I nodded my head. He made his way slowly towards the three of us.
We all headed for the office. Once inside, I told them to have a seat. I didn't offer coffee. Finally, the leader said, "We can do this easy or we can do it hard---"
I interrupted with, "Hey, that's my line---"
"No, not really. It belongs to Tina Turner---"
"Oh, yeah, right! 'Proud Mary,' I stand corrected...It's is a great line, though," and followed the statement with a nervous chuckle.
"Yes, it is! And do you know why? It is a great line because there is a lot of truth in it. There is the easy way and there is the hard way. It always surprises me how so many people opt for the hard way. Know what I mean?"
"Ahh, no, I'm not to sure that I do." I was trying to be as nonchalant about this matter as I could. I had the distinct feeling, however, that I wasn't bringing it off.
"Well, here you are waiting for me to tell you why we felt we needed to get your attention. But, I know that you are a smart boy. I am sure you have put two and two together. But you don't appear to be prepared to talk the talk. Know what I mean now?"
"Hey, why the elaborate means to 'get my attention,' as you put it, you coulda just rang the bell at the gate." I made the speech with as much sincerity I could conjure from my distraught position.
"Nah, it just wouldn't have been the same. You would have told us to take-a-hike. Yes? Given us no respect. We're now talking as equals. That's how it works."
"Hey, guy, it's still all mumble-jumble to me. Let's clear the waters..." I could see Vic following this verbal scrimmage intently, "... Just tell me what's on your mind!"
"That would be too easy since you seem to want to make it hard." His smile reminded me of that on a hammer shark.
"The riddle part doesn't impress me!" And I put as much force into the words as I could muster.
He let out a deep sigh, shook his head to convey that he was finding it difficult to converse with me. I shared the sentiment. "Look, the word on the street is all about things that sparkle. The word is that you know who has the sparklers. We are interested in seeing them."
I looked over at Vic and saw the his eyes had rolled towards the ceiling. The color seemed to have drained from his face. "You seem to have very good sources. Why you wasting time with me?"
"Because we do have very good sources. You are the short cut."
"Hey, it's my gig. Play your own fiddle. Don't bother me." Show a little superiority that was my motto.
"Mr. Cord, you may or may not be correct in suggesting that. There is the possibility that we might just step from the picture altogether. But, you see, it is what we don't know that has our interest; and until we have all the facts, you are going to be required to deal with us---"
"That brings up another point..." it was time to throw up a divergence and get away from the present subject, "... who are us?"
"Hasn't your associate informed you who we work for. I sure that he must have surmised after he followed me home---should I say?"
"Yeah, but surmising isn't like hearing the actual words. Know what I mean? Why would any government be interested in a penny ante game like this one?"
"Exactly my point. Maybe we are not interested. If it is indeed penny ante, we're history. But it could go the other way. The word we have is that there are a lot of diamonds. We know where diamonds come from. We know that no large stash of diamonds have been stolen and this certainly doesn't have the markings of anything beginning in Angola. That leads us to believe that this could be a trove from World War Two. If that is so, it is more than likely, that the original source is Jewish. The logic goes on to say that it belonged to a Jew that did not survive the war. That means, as we see it, the state of Israel is the beneficiary. As you may be aware, we have a cash flow problem. We survive by hard work and a little help from our friends. Your country is one of them. This country is another. But we are always trying to help ourselves. From our limited information, the one stone that has been seen was impressive. It got a lot of attention. We want to know more. Is that simple enough for you to understand?" He gave me what I could only describe as a sincere look.
"Yeah, I suppose. But, hey, if there is anything to what you have to say, well, you've blown it! I mean, if there are worth so much---and I get them---I'm in the wind. Gone like smoke. Know what I mean?"
"Mr. Cord, you have worked with us before. I have seen your dossier. We were satisfied with your abilities; and we noted that your intelligence is nothing to sneeze at, as you Americans would say. I am sure that your man, Vic, here, can tell you that it isn't easy to sell diamonds if they are quality stones and, especially, if there is a large quantity. Where will you sell them? We know all the markets, intimately, I might add." I had looked over at Vic when his name had been mentioned and saw that the man before me had gotten his undivided attention.
"Yeah, I see how you could have a point. But, let's say---just for the sake of argument---that I can locate this trove of diamonds, I mean, I'm not alone in this project. I've made commitments. There are people depending on me. Also, there is the simple legal aspect that they may be owned by someone---"
"Ownership, in this case, is questionable terminology---"
"'Questionable terminology,' what kind of voo-doo vocabulary is that---" This discussion was twisting and turning, then twisting some more. I was starting to think we should go back to the beginning and establish a definition of terms.
"Again, there is the very great possibility that this was one man's legacy. We will make a search for his identity and also make a search---once we have found who he is---whether there are any surviving family members. If so, we will consult with them and work out ... how should I say ... an arrangement---"
"There you go. But, again, what about me and my family? I have obligations here, too." Well, no harm in trying to salvage some face in what had the makings of becoming a farcical parlor game.
"Hmmm, you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours ... Is that what you are driving at?" And there was a conciliatory note in his tone of voice.
I complimented it by replying, "I think that we may be getting somewhere. Finally, the hard part may be looking like it's easy." I paused, thought for a few moments, then added, "I'll talk with my people. See if I can persuade them of the ... how should I say...the efficiency of going at this mater from another direction. Of course, you must realize that I can only make recommendations ... it would be nice if I had some sort of figure that I could throw into this penny ante pot ... You know, to sorta get their attention."
"That's the question that neither of us can answer. And as I will once again say, if it is truly a penny ante game, we're out of here."
He didn't leave me with his calling card. In fact, it was only after he and his partner had left that I realized they had not gone so far as to even introduce themselves so much with a first name. Their parting remark was that they would be in touch.
Once I had let them out the gate, I came back to the office for a confab with Vic. He told me point-blank that they were in the driver's seat. He said that they had summed up the problem that he first informed our little group about, when we had seen the sample diamonds, and that was: how to sell them and where? He said there was no question that we had to work with them. I said that we had to talk with the Hog and I had to talk also with De Vet. I said that the way things were shaping up we didn't need any money men, neither Hog's group nor De Vet's. We would keep Hog in because he was in but eliminate those that could be eliminated. We agreed to meet at Arti later that night for our discussion with the Hog. In the meantime, I would call De Vet and set up a meet with him and give him the bad news. I let Vic out.
Once back in the office, I called De Vet and his secretary put me through without any hassle. I said that we had to talk and he replied that it was about time. He would see me within the hour.
On my bike, pedaling over to the red light district, I rehearsed my presentation. None of the lines, in any of the scripts, I formulated, rang true. It all sounded like bullshit malarkey. This wasn't going to be easy. But what could he do? As far as I knew he wasn't a certified gangster; he was more of a punk who had made good by walking at the edge of Dutch law. Sure he had a couple of goons working for him, but so did Freddie Heineken. It was a sign of the times.
I rang the bell of the office and the door snapped open. I climbed the stairs and entered the dentist-like waiting room with the same apprehensions I would have had if I had been coming for the purpose of having a tooth extracted. The opposite door was already open and I walked through it and down the hall to where I remembered his office to be. His door was ajar, but I knocked never-the-less. "Enter." A voice I recognized as his said. I did as I was told. He motioned me to a chair. I went to it and sat.
He came right to the point. "What progress have you made in our business deal?"
"Yeah! That's what I'm here to talk about ... You see, when we made the agreement I wasn't aware of certain elements, that is all the elements involved. Now that I am, I have come to the realization that there are forces at play bigger than either myself or yourself ... I might add. I am powerless to...to...how should I say it ...? to carry out the scenario I had originally envisioned ... as much as I would like ... of course ...." And my voice just sort of trailed off.
He looked at me sternly and said, "My agreement is with you. I get my percentage---"
I interrupted with, "I should point out that our agreement was that your percentage was for putting up the cash money to make the buy. Your money can't buy these stones. You don't have nearly enough. And, on the other side of the coin, the forces in play are ... scary! And the people working for them are even more scary. You don't wanna know!"
He glared at me and ratty-tat-tatted his fingers on his desk. A long interval followed before he said, simply, "I see. Dunk ya wel, Meneer Cord. You know the way out." I didn't say goodbye, he didn't say ciao. I left through the door and down the hall, through the waiting room, down the stairs, etc., etc., etc., But I did it all in half the time that he had taken me when I had entered. Something told me that I had not heard the last of this.
When I arrived at Arti, I saw both the Hog and Vic standing at the bar with grim looks on their mugs. I made my way to them. They both had a tulip glass of jenever and a beer before them. I looked at the glasses then looked at them and said, "Too many of those will get you drunk!" They both looked at me intently and said in unison, "That's the idea!" They had a point. I ordered the same. We drank our drinks and ordered more. No one seemed like talking. But we had much to discuss. The problem was, Where to begin? Where indeed.
"Look, guys, there may be a good side to all this ..." I said as way of trying to get something going. "... Maybe we should look from an angle that this is really a good thing that has intersected itself into the equation----"
"Talk in English I can understand," said Vic.
I tried again, "I mean, as Vic pointed out so eloquently, the other night, that there is no easy way to deal the quality diamonds. Nor do we have any plan on how to deal with this guy Bas. That part may now be resolved. We don't deal with him, but let our new friends? partners? whatever, do the negotiations. We take our percentage and call it a day. That's it in a neat little package." I spread my hands with the palms up.
There was a long quiet and it was the Hog that finally broke it when he said, "How much do we stand to gain?"
"We don't know! Dammit!" Then I remembered to tell then I had made an appointment, for all of us, for Saturday, with the man of the hour, Bas.
"Do you and me just let our new friends follow us there?" Asked Vic.
"Sure, why not"? They'll do it anyway; one way or another. It'll save us time if we don't have to try to not allow them. And trying to not allow them is what I would call an exercise in futility!" I said resignedly.
"Yeah," was all that Vic had to say to that.
The Hog final raised a finger and said, "What is it we will discuss with this fellow if the diamonds are all we expect them to be?"
"Good point, Bert." I pondered that over in my mind before saying, "I think that we must come clean about all the nuances at play. Lay it on the line that all of us are only minor players and that includes him." I ended that with a positive inflection in my voice.
Vic then said, "That might be the best approach because, if you think about it, this isn't the brightest guy in the world or he wouldn't have been asking the working girls for help in selling the diamonds."
Bert nodded his head in agreement; I concurred. Vic and I said we would meet Bert at the antique shop the next day and we left together. Vic said he was going to the Okshoofd and asked if I wanted to join him. I declined and said I was going home to try and get some sleep. I saw no percentage in doing the rounds of the discos. The Mondrian thing was really really dead in the water as far as I could determine. The Hog had said something about he was still asking around and that he had had copies made of the copy I had given him, "It is in black and white, but I think that that is good enough. The painting does not seem to have much color as it is."