WHERE HAVE YOU GONE?! …….. PIET MONDRIAN, chapter 4
Well, the fact that he knew who had stolen the painting changed things. Now I envisioned being forced to drag my ass as to run up the bill before I made the amazing recovery.
"Yes. Yes, I know who stole it. It was one of two people---"
"Wait a minute, now there are two people. Where they working together? Or separately and independently?"
"Please, Meneer Cord, How can I possibly answer that? I don't know---"
Now that was a refreshing admission of Meneer Jan Jansen's part. I was beginning to suspect that he knew everything. "Then, how do you know either of them together or separately had anything to do with it?
"It is only logical. They coveted the Mondrian. I could sense that! Why else would they do it?" He stared at me with a look that dared me to question such a position. I have dealt with psychics, card readers, mind readers and all other members of the various divisions of the paranormal lexicon. And the two things that all the practitioners are good at is their sincerity and the conviction that they are right. There is no arguing with them. I could now see, without doubt, this was true, too, with Jan Jansen.
"Let's start over...Do you have any evidence?"
"What sort of evidence? I could see it in their eyes when we met at kijkdag---"
"Yes. Yes. The days that you go to look at what will be offered at auction. They both seemed to ignore me. When I looked them in the eye, they looked away. Oh, there can be no doubt. You can trust me on that!" He punctuated the statement with a knowing smirk. But his smugness didn't dissuade me.
"That's all the evidence you have?"
"As I told you, Meneer Cord, there was much action---sort of speak, or is it, so-to-speak---at the actual auction. That is why I had to pay so much! Surely it is obvious." His tone was defiant.
"Yeah, well, not to me. Sorry...I mean, how do you suggest I confront these two supposed scoundrels. I have no evidence...no proof...proof? Not even a good reason to explain why I am accusing them of taking off with your Piet Mondrian. Just how do you suggest I go about it?" The more I said, the more assertive my tone was becoming.
"You are a private detective. You can put a little pressure on them---"
"Pressure? How do you describe that term? You want me to be physical, to rough them up?" Now my tone was bordering on anger.
"Isn't that what private detectives do?" He stammered it out as if he was completely baffled by my reaction.
"Only in books and movies." Maybe I didn't need the 800 guilders that badly. Damn, I had already countersigned the goddamn contract. "Look, there are laws that protect people from thugs---"
"But, they are the thugs, Meneer Cord---" He was being adamant and the look in his eyes was conveying that he was now doubting his commitment to paying me the 800 guilders. Hey, buddy, I thought, that makes two of us! But he didn't say anything and I didn't say anything...so, all right, I needed the 800 guilders more than I wanted to admit.
"Okay! Right! Thugs!...Give me their names and I'll think of some way to approach them."
I handed him a pad of paper and a ball point pen. He rejected the pen and took out a large black Mont Blanc Diplomat. It was identical to the one that John F. Kennedy had used to sign new laws into act. I was impressed. He recorded their names in large block letters. He said that he only, generally, knew where they lived, but didn't have an exact address for either. I said I'd look them up in the telephone book. That's me, Wes Cord, super sleuth.
I let Jan Jansen out the gate and told him I would be in touch. I went back to the office and sat in my chair. I peered at the Jim Dine which was a large etching that had been hand colored. The title was "Poet Assassinated," or something like that. There was a pistol in the imagery. It seemed to fit with the business I was in. The face, in the print, was rather oval in shape and there was a perplexed look on it coupled with surprise. Maybe he had been listening to the discussion that had just transpired. Maybe he, the face, would like to take this case. Ah, hell, I had nothing better to do. Was that the title? "Poet Assassinated?" Never really thought what it meant. Should check the receipt the gallery had given me. Ah, yes, the receipt! Maybe I should open an "art file" as Jansen called it. First, however, I would check the phone book.
I found Willem van den Valk at an address located in the old south. That was fitting area for an art dealer. It was a money neighborhood, for the most part. Though, because of the Dutch social housing program, there were people living in the area who had no money. Next to his name was something in Dutch beginning with "Kunst" which even I knew meant art. I guess he was the right Willem van den Valk. Deductive of me. I copied down the address and telephone number. Next, I looked for Lars Wetering. And there he was. He lived in the Jordaan and on the Tuinstraat. I copied this information down as well.
Now, how should I approach this? Do I call and make an appointment? That was both the traditional and proper approach...But! "But"...I sometimes thought that that was the biggest word in the dictionary. When I had been about 11 or 12, a neighbor kid, at the grand old age of 18, or so, told me that the biggest word in the dictionary was "if." I looked it up. Next time I saw him, I told him that there were a lot more words----and many on the same page---that had more lines of definition than "if." He smiled condescendingly, with all his adult' affectations, and said, "I meant it as a metaphor." Oh!... And I was back to the dictionary to look up the word "metaphor."
Metaphor or no metaphor, how should I approach the issue? I twiddled my thumbs; looked to the Dine' "Poet" for inspiration and finding none stared at my twiddling thumbs. What the hell! Okay, I'll do it upfront. I lifted the phone and pushed in the numbers. Push button phones had just been introduced by the Dutch telephone company. I counted my blessings. The only thing I disliked more than dialing was talking on the phone. At least, part of the exercise was now easier. Look on the bright side of life...that's my motto. After a few rings, someone picked up. It was a woman. I identified myself and excused myself for speaking in English and asked for Meneer Van den Valk and she told me to hold on. A few seconds later, "This is Willem van den Valk. How may I help you." He voice was a baritone; and the modulations of his intonations were reassuring, though there was an edge of temerity with its resulting tone that said, "Trust me!" The way it should be with an art dealer, no doubt, I thought, especially in view of what Jansen had told me in regard to what is real and what is not real when it comes to art.
I answered his question by saying that I understood he was a private art dealer. He acknowledged that. I said I wanted to discuss the possibility of his assisting me in a few purchases. He asked what area of art I was interested in, "I do not work in all areas of art history nor all genres. I am most concerned with late 19th century pictures and 20th century modern art."
I replied, "The 20th century, That's my area of collecting..." and thinking fast, I said, "I would like to talk about the COBRA school." I was proud of myself for having pulled that out of the air.
"I can perhaps help you. It is one of my specialty areas. When would you like to meet?"
Now, was my first impulse, but I thought that that might be too disconcerting and said, "Tomorrow, would be good..."
"Tomorrow? Yes. That's soon. Let me look at my agenda." I heard a page being turned and he said, "The summer months are quiet and I see that I have an open time tomorrow, in the afternoon. Say 16:00?"
"Great. Fits my program perfectly. Let me verify your address---"
"I am so sorry, but I do not entertain my clients at my home. Do you know Cafe Keyser? It is just across the street from the Concertgebouw."
"Yes, of course, I do."
"We shall meet there. How will I know you Meneer Cord?" I went on to describe myself as short, blond hair and told him, "My mother always described me as her handsome son."
He replied, "So did mine! But I never thought that to be an accurate description!" I admitted I, too, had reservations.
"Look, I'll wear a black turtle neck sweater." I said.
After he had disconnected, I reviewed the call and thought that had been easy. All my consternation had been for naught. It had been easy.
I quickly punched in the other number. I was on a roll. No reason to hesitate now. The phone rang five or six times. There was a click and I began to listen to a prerecorded voice and message. Of course, in Dutch. However, I assumed it was saying, "Hey, someone, I ain't here. Leave a message!" The answering machine was slowly catching on in the Netherlands. At Sassy's insistence, I had purchased my own model just a few years or so ago. She had guaranteed a rapid return on the investment by saying, "Now you won't miss any new clients; and you'll be able to give me a raise!" The only raise she would get out of me...but, no, she was a married woman. Perish that thought! When the "beep" sounded, I gave my name and phone number and put the receiver back in the cradle. Hey, I hadn't said enough to scare him off.
I sat back again. Picked-up my packet of tobacco. Took a rolling paper from the small cardboard folder and rolled a shaggie. As I puffed away, with no noticeable need to cough---the coughing lessened as the day wore on---and I let portions of my conversation with Jansen play through my mind once again. There was something which had piqued my interest and it certainly wasn't Jan Jansen. I found him pompous. And perhaps he was a pompous fool as well.
At 18:00, I called it a day. Locked up and rode my bike home.
I'm a late eater. Eight p.m. is an early time for me. Nine is normal and sometimes I don't make my way to the kitchen until 22:30. Don't really know why. When I had been growing up dinner was always at exactly six p.m. My father would pull into the driveway always at the stroke of six. My mother would be putting the food on the table. He would walk in through the side door to the house and sit on the stoop that lead to the small landing adjacent to the door. There he took off his work shoes. At university, I had a job in a woman's hotel run by a Catholic charity. I worked from 17:00 to 18:00 and was paid with a meal that I would set down to at six p.m. When I was married, somehow, it was also dinner at six. Since I had been on my own, I did things when I wanted to do them---or felt the need---eating was one of them.
So, instead of cooking, I poured a glass of California Ruby Red, went into the main room, and put on an LP. Randy Newman would be suitable for this hour; sat in my chair and picked up the book I was reading. It was a thriller and I was already making conjecture on whodunnit. Maybe I should write the author. Explain to him my dilemma about how to find a painting that may be by an artist named Mondrian or not by an artist named Mondrian. Real or not real. He would probably reply, "Hey, if you need the money, go for it!" Okay, all ready, I need the money!
At about half past eight, I went into the kitchen and took out the chicken parts I had bought. Actually, I had bought about 300 grams of what I called the "little drumsticks." That is, one of the three parts of the chicken's wing. The part that attaches to the body of the chicken and looks like a drumstick. Wings are cheap. They fit my budget. Poor man's food, but tasty! I got out a medium size sauce pan and added a cup and one half of water to it. I threw in a teaspoon of salt and turned on the heat. While it was coming to a boil, I washed the chicken under cold water and set it aside. I sliced up a medium size onion and cut the slices in half. I took a paprika, cut it in half and sliced that half into several long strips and then cut them across in small cubes. I took two cloves of garlic and a small three centimeter long section of fresh ginger and diced up all of it. By now, the water was boiling. I added the chicken, onions and pepper. Lowered the temperature a wee bit and let it cook away for about five minutes. Then I tossed in the about a cup of rice. Stirred, and let it continue to cook for about another five minutes. During that time, I took out a stalk of broccoli and cut off several flowerets. When I went back to the pot, I put the broccoli at the top of the concoction. Put the lid on the pot. Turned down the heat to a very low flame and went back to the book. Eight or ten minutes later, I went back to the kitchen and turned off the flame. I let the pot sit for about ten minutes; at which point, I served myself. The chicken fell from the bone and the rice mixture tasted of a rich mix of many flavors. It is a good and basic recipe; and with endless variations. Sometimes I added a really hot pepper to go with the mild paprika; sometimes I added julienned lemon rind; and sometimes, curry powder. Takes no time at all. Who says cooking for one is too much trouble?
And when the chicken was gone, I got out the strawberries. It was only then that I realized I had not bought any ice cream nor did I have heavy cream to whip, but there was yogurt...And that ain't bad!
Dinner and dishes were out of the way before ten. It was time to check out what was happening with the social scene. The city had what I called a cafe society. The brown cafes were generally crowded. I had surmised on my first visit to Amsterdam, years before, that there were various factors that contributed to this situation. First of all, the flats are small. A feeling of claustrophobia is felt even by those who do not suffer from a claustrophobic syndrome. And when there are two or more people living in the closed confines there is a need for space. Factor two, until about a year ago there were only two television stations in the Netherlands: Nederland 1 and Nederland 2. TV started its program day at 18:30---with the exception of Wednesday when there was afternoon programing because the lower school kids had Wednesday' afternoons off. The programing ended at about 22:30---except on weekends when it continued for another two hours or so. As a result, when the screen went blank, you got out of the house and checked out the corner cafe.
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