The Modigliani Scandal | Chapter 26 of 34

Author: Ken Follett | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 8820 Views | Add a Review

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V

SAMANTHA STEPPED INTO THE Black Gallery and looked around in wonder. The place was transformed. Last time she had been here, it had been full of workmen, rubble, paint cans and plastic sheeting. Now it looked more like an elegant apartment: richly carpeted, tastefully decorated, with interesting futuristic furniture and a jungle of bright aluminum spotlights growing out of the low ceiling.

Julian sat at a chrome-and-glass desk just beside the door. When he saw her he got up and shook hands, giving a perfunctory nod to Tom.

He said to Sammy: ″I′m thrilled you′re going to do the opening for me. Shall I show you around?″

″If you can spare the time from your work,″ Samantha said politely.

He made a pushing-aside gesture with his hand. ″Just looking at the bills, and trying to make them go away by telepathy. Come on.″

Julian had changed, Samantha thought. She studied him as he showed them the paintings and talked about the artists. His earlobe-length fair hair had been layered and styled, losing the public-schoolboy look to a more natural, fashionable cut. He spoke now with confidence and authority, and his walk was more sure and aggressive. Samantha wondered whether it was the wife problem or the money problem which had been solved: perhaps it was both.

She liked his taste in art, she decided. There was nothing breathtakingly original on display—unless you counted the wriggling mass of fiberglass sculpture in the alcove—but the works were modem and somehow well-done. The kind of thing I might have on my wall, she thought and found that the expression suited how she felt.

He took them around quickly, as if afraid they might get bored. Samantha was grateful: it was all very nice, but these days all she wanted to do was get high or sleep. Tom had started to refuse her the pills occasionally, like in the mornings. Without them her moods changed fast.

They came full circle to the door. Samantha said: ″I have a favor to ask you, Julian.″

″Your servant, ma′am.″

ʺWill you get us invited to your father-in-lawʹs house for dinner?″

He raised his eyebrows. ″Why would you want to meet that old shit?″

″He fascinates me. Who would build a million-pound art collection, then sell it? Besides, he sounds like my type.″ She fluttered her eyelashes.

Julian shrugged. ″If you really want to, it′s easy. I′ll take you—Sarah and I go to dinner a couple of times a week anyway. It saves cooking. Iʹll give you a ring.″

ʺThank you.ʺ

″Now then, you know that date of the opening. I′d be grateful if you could get here at about six-thirty.″

ʺJulian, I′m glad to help, but I can′t be anything but the last to arrive, you know.″

He laughed. ″Of course not. I forget you′re a star. The official start is seven-thirty or eight, so perhaps eight o′clock would be best.″

ʺOkay. But dinner with Lord Cardwell first, right?″

ʺRight.ʺ

They shook hands again. As they left Julian returned to his desk and his bills.

 

Tom moved sideways through the packed crowd in the street market. It never seemed to be half full: unless it was jammed solid it appeared empty. Street markets were meant to be crowded—the people liked it, and so did the stallholders. Not to mention the pickpockets.

The familiarity of the market made Tom feel uncomfortable. The crockery stall, the secondhand clothes, the noise, the accents—all represented a world he was glad to have left behind. In the circles he now moved in, he exploited his working-class origins—they were quite fashionable—but he had no fond memories. He looked at the beautiful Asian women in saris, the fat West Indian mothers, the Greek youngsters with their smooth olive skin, the old cockneys in cloth caps, the tired young women with babies, the unemployed lads in the latest stolen bell-bottoms: and he uneasily resisted a sense of belonging.

He pushed on through the crowd, aiming for the pub at the end of the street. He heard a singsong voice from a man selling jewelry off an upturned orange crate: ″Stolen property, don′t say a word—ʺ He grinned to himself. Some of the goods in the market were stolen, but most of the bargains were just factory rejects, too poor in quality to go to the stores. People assumed that if the goods were stolen, they must be good quality.

He came out of the market crowd and entered the Cock. It was a traditional pub: dim, smoky, and slightly smelly, with a concrete floor and hard upright benches along the wall. He went up to the bar.

″Whisky and soda, please. Is Bill Wright here?″

″Old Eyes Wright?″ the barman said. He pointed: ″Over there. He′s drinking Guinness.″

″One for him, then.″

He paid and carried the drinks to a three-legged table on the far side of the room. ″Morning, Sergeant-Major.ʺ

Wright glared up at him over a pint glass. ″Cheeky young pup. I hope you′ve bought me a drink.″

″Of course.″ Tom sat down. With typical cockney complexity, ″Eyes″ Wright′s nickname was a double joke: not only was he a former professional soldier, but he had bulging eyes of a curious orange color.

Tom sipped his drink and studied the man. The head was shorn to a white bristle, except for a small round patch of oiled brown hair right on top. He was deeply tanned, for he spent six weeks every summer and winter in the Caribbean. The money for these holidays he earned as a safe-breaker—the career he had taken up when he had left the Army. He had a reputation for being a skilled workman. He had only been caught once, and that through incredibly bad luck—a burglar had broken into the house Wright was robbing and set off the alarm.

Tom said: ″A lovely day for villainry, Mr. Wright.″

Wright emptied his glass and picked up the one Tom had bought ʺYou know what the Bible do say: ʹThe Lord sendeth his sunshine and his rain on the wicked as well as the just.′ Always been a great consolation to me, that verse.″ He drank again. ″You can′t be all bad, son, if you buy a drink for a poor old man.″

Tom raised his glass to his lips. ″Good luck.″ He reached over and touched Wright′s lapel. ″Like the suit. Savile Row?″

″Yes, lad. You know what the Bible do say: ′Avoid the appearance of evil.′ Good advice. Now what copper could bring himself to arrest an old sergeant-major with short hair and a quality suit?″

″Let alone one that could quote the Bible at him.″

ʺHmmm.ʺ Wright took several large gulps of stout ʺWell, young Thomas, itʹs about time you stopped beating about the bush. What is it you want?″

Tom lowered his voice. ″I′ve got a job for you.″

Wright narrowed his eyes. ″What is it?″

″Pictures.″

ʺPorn? You can′t get—ʺ

″No,″ Tom interrupted. ″Works of art, you know. Rare stuff.″

Wright shook his head. ʺNot my field. I wouldn′t know where to get rid.″

Tom made an impatient gesture. ″I′m not doing it on my own. I′ll need finance anyway.″

″Who′s in with you?″

″Well, that′s another reason I′ve come to you. What about Mandingo?″

Wright nodded thoughtfully. ″You′re splitting it a lot of ways, now. How much is the job worth?″

″A million, all told.″

Wright′s sandy eyebrows lifted. ″I tell you what—if Mandingo backs it, I′m in.″

″Great. Let′s go see him.″

They left the pub and crossed the road to where a new, mustard-colored Citröen was parked on a double yellow line. As Wright opened the door, a bearded old man in a stained overcoat came up. Wright gave him some money and got in.

″He looks after the warden for me,″ Wright explained as he pulled away. ″You know what the Bible do say: ′Do not muzzle the ox that grindeth the corn.′ Wardens are oxen.″

Tom tried to figure out why the quote was relevant as Wright guided the car south and west. He gave up when they stopped in a narrow street in theater-land, near Trafalgar Square.

″He lives here?″ Tom said in surprise.

″He does well for himself. ʹLo, how the wicked are raised up!′ He should be rich, the percentage he takes.″ Wright got out of the car.

They went down a narrow street and into a nondescript entrance. An elevator took them to the top floor of the building. There was a spyhole in the door Wright knocked on.

It was opened by a dark-skinned young man in matador pants, a loud shirt, and beads.

Wright said: ″Morning, Mandingo.″

ʺHey, man, c′mon in,″ said Mandingo. He waved them in with a slim hand from which a long cigarette drooped.

The flat was luxuriously decorated in red and black, and cluttered with expensive furniture. The costly electric toys of a man who has more money than he knows how to spend were scattered around: a spherical transistor radio, one large color TV and another portable one, a digital dock, a mass of hi-fi equipment, and an incongruous antique telephone. A pale blonde girl wearing sunglasses lounged in a deep armchair, a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other. She nodded at Wright and Tom, and negligently flicked ash on the deep-pile carpet.

ʺHey, man, what gives?″ Mandingo asked as they sat down.

Wright said: ʺTom here would like you to finance a little blagging.″

Tom thought how disparate the two men were, and wondered why they worked together.

Mandingo looked at him. ʺTom Copper, ain′t it? So you fancy yourself as a draftsman. Last I heard you was kiting.″

″This is a big job, Mandingo.″ Tom was resentful. He did not like to be reminded of his days as a petty check-forger.

″Give, give.″

″You read in the papers about Lord Cardwell′s art collection?″

Mandingo nodded.

″I′ve got an in.″

Mandingo pointed at him. ″I am impressed. Maybe you′ve come a long way, Tom. Where is it kept?″

″His house in Wimbledon.″

″I don′t know if I can fix the police that far out.″

″No need,″ said Tom. ″There are only thirty paintings. I′ll have the whole thing sussed out beforehand. Bill here is working with me. The job will take maybe quarter of an hour.″

Mandingo looked thoughtful. ″A million sobs, in fifteen minutes. I like that.″ He stroked the blonde girl′s thigh absently. ″So what′s the deal? You′ll want me to supply a van and a couple of laborers; to store the hot stuff; and to find a market for it.″ He was talking to himself, thinking aloud. ″It′ll go to the States. I′ll get maybe half a million for it if I do it slowly. Probably take a couple of years to get rid.″ He looked up. ″Okay. I′ll take fifty percent: you split the other half between you. Bear in mind it′ll take a while for the money to come in.″

″Fifty percent?″ Tom said. Wright put a restraining hand on his arm.

″Leave it, Tom. Mandingo′s taking the big risk—storage.″

Mandingo spoke as if he hadn′t heard. ʺThereʹs something else. You′re asking me to put my men at risk, lay out money, find storage—even just talking to you I lay myself open to a conspiracy charge. So don′t do the job unless you′re absolutely certain. If you cock it up—well, just leave the country before I get my hands on you. Failures are bad for my reputation.″

Wright stood up, and Tom followed suit. Mandingo showed them to the door.

He said: ʺHey, Tom, whatʹs your in to that house?″

″I′m going there to dinner. See you.″

Mandingo laughed uproariously as he shut the door.

Comments

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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