WHERE HAVE YOU GONE?! …….. PIET MONDRIAN, chapter 7
As I made my way home, I thought about what I had learned. Not much.
Van den Valk had been convincing. I had come out of nowhere with the inquiry about Mondrian. There was not even a hint of any recognition that would have indicated anything out of the ordinary. He had picked up the subject matter and dealt with it in a very ordinary way and very logically from his point of view. "I'm not interested in Mondrian" was what it came down to. His reaction to my mentioning Jansen name was also completely natural. He was sincerely shocked that Jansen had mentioned his name at all and in any context. Strike him from the suspect list.
Twiddle-dee, twiddle-dum, I was back to playing with my thumbs. I made a few notes. "Call: Jansen, Photos." What else. Let's forget motive for the moment. There wasn't one that I could identify. Again, Van den Valk had said that the word was out, at the time of the auction, that the Mondrian was a fake. Who is going to steal a fake? That fact, if it was a fact, still nagged at me. It wouldn't hurt to maybe put out the word that I was interested in a Mondrian. Maybe that would develop possibilities...Yeah, maybe. Another thought came to mind. Who had put the Mondrian into the sale? I should ask Jansen if he had inquired at the auction house. I added this to my notes. I scratched at the back of my neck, but that brought no flashes of insight. Well, the thumb thing hadn't worked either.
At my flat, I immediately called Jansen and asked if he had a photo? "Yes, I do have a remarkable transparency---" I interrupted to ask what that was, "A slide, Meneer Cord. Put it into a projector and you have a very faithful rendering of the original---" I interrupted again and explained it was not a convenient representation for my purposes. "Could you have a paper copy made?" He said it was possible, in fact, doable, but that it would require a day or two. I suggested he get right to it early the next morning. He agreed to do so. I then asked if he had asked the auction house for the identity of the person who had put the Mondrian on sale? "Yes, oh yes. Before I even submitted it to the kunstlaboratorium. They told me that they must first contact the seller for their permission to release the information. About a week later, they called back to tell me that the person had refused. There was no further explanation." Another dead end. I said I would be in touch.
I poured a glass of wine and went back to the book I was reading. It, being a thriller, could trigger something. Hey, I would take anything. It was an "informal" detective novel written by a very good writer, Ross Thomas. His protagonist,Cyril "Mac" McCorkle, owned a bar in D.C. and from time to time got involved with investigating. Thomas's plotting was intriguing. He had started this novel with an octogenarian opening his Georgetown townhouse door and being murdered by a black teenager. The man had been a power behind the thrones' of power for most of his life. A mover both on the domestic political scene and the international geopolitical one. His death had set into motion several scenarios.
I came to a point that seemed a natural place to insert my book mark and do my dinner thing. I went into the kitchen and selected two Hass avocados I had picked up at the market. The Hass variety was, in my opinion, like the best cut of beef, that is, the superb variety compared to all others. In the states, the places I had shopped only identified "avocados" as "avocados." In Holland, the avocado was a new offering in the specialty green grocery stores. The variety with the dark, nearly black skin, and wrinkled like a prune, was always singled out as "hass." In the Dutch language, the term "hass" referred to the tenderloin or filet mignon of beef, pork and lamb. At first, I assumed that the Dutch had applied this term to the crème de la crème of this very subtle fruit variety. Got that wrong. I had read an article in the Tribune, by Waverly Root, who was composing a food encyclopedia, concerning the avocado. It seems that a man named Hass---or a town in Southern California called Hass---during the 20s, grafted one or so existing varieties of avocado trees into one.
A perfectly ripe avocado makes for a perfectly balanced---in both flavor and texture---guacamole. I had also bought a bunch of sprigs of coriander at the market along with a lime, onion, nice ripe tomato and fresh garlic. I peeled the avocado and cut it into sections. Diced the onion and the tomato. Added it to the avocado. Diced the garlic and the coriander and added it all the growing mix. I poured a tablespoons worth of olive oil over it; cut the lime and squeezed the juice into the mix. I took out a potato masher and went to work. Once that the chunks had disappeared, I sat aside the bowl to let it sit and allow the flavors meld. I poured another glass of wine and went back to the book.
About an hour later, I returned to the kitchen and turned on my deep fryer. There was a shop on the Nieuwendijk that sold unprocessed corn tortillas, frozen. They were now thawed and I cut the circular flatbreads into six triangular sections. When the oil was hot, I prepared them, in batches. I got a Grolsch, my favorite Dutch beer---in fact, my favorite from anywhere beer---from the refrigerator and put everything on the kitchen table. Aaah, summertime and, again, the livin' is easy.
I had reached the stage in this case where I was getting itchy. I had no clues to lead me anywhere. I was feeling my way through the dark. I hadn't stumbled over anything yet and that worried me as much as fearing that I would. I mean, if I did stumble over something, anything, that would be something. If, I didn't, it was nothing. I relaxed, well, I relaxed a little, then I forced myself to remember I had been on the case for only a day. Then I remembered the axiom in crime detection that most cases are solved within 24 hours. After that the trail grows cold. Come to think of it, it had been more than a day as far as to when the crime---if there was indeed a crime---had been perpetrated. Jansen had told me it had been a week since the Mondrian had disappeared. Jansen had first reported it to the police and when they informed him that they couldn’t help, he had sought out someone who could and I entered the picture.
I decided to go to De Pels, Vic would invariably be there, hanging out ... as was his English wont.
Indeed, when I walked into the door I immediately spotted Vic chatting-up, as the English say, a "bird," the term they use to refer to the fine examples of the female of the species. Vic had a remarkable ability of conveying the idea that he was giving someone his full attention while at the same time keeping himself totally aware of everything else that was going on in the room or who was coming through the door. This occasion was no exception. He had spotted me immediately and I could see he was already tying up loose ends in his conversation with the pretty lady. She had a bewildered expression when he excused himself and made his way over to me. No doubt wondering as to his sexual preference. Come to think about it, so had I. Maybe Vic was a switch hitter.
"Wes, this is the second time in three days that you have passed through this doorway. To what does this establishment owe the honor?" It all came out sounding like Alec Guinness playing a cockney hood, in "The Ladykillers," trying to sound like a cultured music conductor.
"I have something for you to do."
"Always at your service, my good man." And he extended a short an unexaggerated bow. "What is the nature of the request?"
"I am looking for an oil painting. I made a vague reference, last night, in regard to the case I have just accepted. So far I haven't a clue what it is all about." I went on to describe to him the rudimentary facts or, better put, the lack of rudimentary facts. He nodded occasionally and finally asked, "In what way do you envision that I can assist in moving you from square one to square two?"
"Put the word out on the street that you're looking for a Mondrian...."
"Wessie, the people I deal with---and I mean that metaphorically ... really, I do---don't know Mondrian from mayonnaise. Truth be known, I not sure I do either." It was not often that Vic admitted to having limited knowledge on any subject.
"I'll have a photograph tomorrow, or the next day, and I'll make copies and give you one. It really doesn't matter what you know about the subject matter ... it is all about getting the word on the street."
"I see that...And what recompense should I expect for this service?"
"To be honest with you, Vic, I don't expect to promise you anything in the way of money. There are severe limitations on the budgeting of any compensation in this case. Since what I am asking doesn't entail much of anything---and certainly, no risk---I think you should just do it for ol' time sake ... and I'll throw in a couple of rounds of pils and jenever." I suffixed all this with my most sincere smile. He stared back betraying no emotions.
Finally he said, "I see! This does not pay my rent, Cord! But seeing how we're ol' mates and my beak is dry, I will accept under this condition: Should any additional monetary remuneration come your way for solving this enigma I will expect that I am not to be forgotten. Do you find these conditions acceptable, my good man?"
"Indubitably..." And I added, "My good man." Hey, I wasn't to be outdone by a cockney sounding posh accented aging English hippy. I told him I would be by the cafe sometime tomorrow or the next day.
"That's most vague. Can't you narrow it down some?" Vic asked.
"As soon as I get the photos. could be any time, but you're always here."
"Yeah, well it's my office. Now innit?" Ooops, that wasn't very posh.
It was still early and I was restless. I got on my bike and headed for Mazzo's, a disco, on the Rozengracht. "Disco" didn't really describe the place. Under the Amsterdam horeca laws it was listed as a societeit which gave it certain privileges concerning opening hours not granted to the ordinary walk-in establishment. To enter, you had to be a member. The membership of such places were regulated to include a certain group or groups of people. Mazzo was listed as a club for people involved within the media and visual arts. This cast a large shadow over a great number of categories: artists, graphic designers, TV people, music---musicians, producers, agents/managers---and for that matter, models, booksellers or people working in an artist supply shop. Fortunately, proof of one's related profession was not required. I had put down on the membership form, "aesthetic interpreter" and it hadn't raised an eyebrow.
Marc was the doorman tonight and welcomed me warmly. It was still relatively quiet but since it was only a little after eleven in the evening that was to be expected. The crowd would begin to grow around one when the brown cafes closed; and fill up at two when the late licensed cafes closed. I wandered through the place before going to the bar. I spotted Kees. He was an Amsterdam police detective. The way I understood it, there were no individual departments for things like homicide and vice and what have you because not many people got killed and vice was a commodity which was tolerated as long as you paid the tax on your gains from it. All very sensible. On my first visit to the country, I had been here about two weeks before it dawned on me that I had not seen a police car. That was no longer true, but, still, the police were not standing on every street corner or cruising down every street. When you can't legally buy a gun in a shop---and come to think of it, there were no shops selling guns---you didn't have people shooting at other people. It certainly kept the crime under control. As a result to all this, the members of the police force did not fit the stereotype of, say, the policeman in New York. Hell, the Amsterdam clone didn't even fit the profile of a policeman in Cedar Rapids Iowa for that matter.
A lot had to do with the fact that in a tolerant society, it was hard to break the law. Don't get me wrong, there were a lotta laws on the books since it was a very bureaucratic country, but the Dutch preferred to follow the spirit-of-the-law as opposed to the American custom of insisting on conforming to the letter-of-the-law. I had never heard about cops taking pay-offs; so, if it did happen, it was so underplayed and seldom, that it virtually didn't exist.
Kees was drinking a beer and smoking a joint. When I walked up to him he handed me the joint and offered to buy me a beer. I accepted both. He was tall and thin and looked a lot like Gary Cooper. His facial expression was as stoical as that of the Hollywood icon of the 30s and 40s. When he smiled, it was so underplayed that it was no more than an aberration. But, perhaps, that was true of cops all over the world. He was certainly no fashion horse. He wore a rumbled sport jacket, and it was the only one I had ever seen him wear. His wardrobe consisted of no wardrobe. I had never determined if this was because of a lack of money or lack of concerned. However, it didn't appear to squelch female interest towards him.
Once I had the beer glass in hand, we began to kibitz on the ladies in attendance. Kees and I made a good pair when it came to chasing poontang, as he liked to describe it, because we had the direct opposite in taste in females. The Dutch had a very open attitude towards sex. They had not been burden by the restraints imposed in America by both the Catholic Church as well as the straight laced Methodist, Presbyterian and Episcopal Churches. The Baptists, since they comprised so many sects, had the tendency to swing both ways: permissive to strict. The Dutch society was divided into the Calvinist and the Catholics. However, for some reason, the Catholic Church in Holland did not mirror Catholicism as practiced in most other countries. It was tolerant just like the rest of the society.
Between comments on certain ladies that passed by our view or twirled about the dance floor, I told Kees about my new case. I especially outlined the fact that Jansen had told me that the police had shown little interest. When I detailed the few facts I had, he nodded his head and said, "Wes, it is obvious no great crime has been committed. If even there has been any crime to speak of at all. Certainly you must see that?"
I told him that I agreed with him and I wasn't being critical of his organization. He said he would make a few calls the next day and see what had actually gone down. I said, "Thanks" and assured him I didn't expect much. The place was now getting crowded and Kees took off in one direction on the trail of a big buxom blond with long flowing hair. It was getting late. I did have a case to work, so I thought it time for my beauty sleep. It didn't look like love was going to dance into my arms tonight; and I didn't feel any motivation to try to make it happened.
I weaved my way across the dance floor and through the door into the entree foyer. Marc swung open the main door and I discreetly palmed a rijksdaalder [2 and 1/2 guilder coin] into his palm. "Have a good night, Wes," was his parting remark. Well, I wasn't concerned about the night. It was over. It was the next day that was occupying my mind.