‘Do you have contacts at the auction house?’

‘I’m sorry?’

Mr Nowicki has regained his colour. ‘Do you have contacts at any auction houses? I spoke to one a while back but they wanted too much money. Twenty per cent, I think it was. Plus tax. It’s too much.’

‘You … want to get it valued for insurance?’

‘No. I want to sell it.’ He opens his battered leather wallet without looking up and slides the photograph inside. ‘Apparently this is a very good time to sell. Foreigners are buying everything …’ He waves a hand dismissively.

Jason is staring at him. ‘But, Dad …’

‘This has all been expensive. We have bills to pay.’

‘But you said –’

Mr Nowicki turns away from his son. ‘Can you look into it for me? I’m assuming you will invoice me your fee.’

Outside, a door slams in the street; the sound reverberates off the frontages of the buildings. In the next office Paul can hear Miriam’s muffled telephone conversation. He swallows. Keeps his voice level. ‘I’ll do that.’

There is a long silence. Finally the old man rises from his seat.

‘Well, that is very good news,’ he says finally, and gives him a tight smile. ‘Very good news indeed. Thank you very much, Mr McCafferty.’

‘No problem,’ he says. He stands and holds out his hand.

When they leave, Paul McCafferty sits down in his chair. He closes the file, then his eyes.

‘You can’t take it personally,’ Janey says.

‘I know. It’s just –’

‘It’s not our business. We’re just here for recovery.’

‘I know. It’s just that Mr Nowicki had gone on and on about how personal this painting was to the family and how it represented everything they’d lost and –’

‘Let it go, Paul.’

‘This never happened in the Squad.’ He stands up and paces around Janey’s cramped office. He stops by the window and gazes out. ‘You got people their stuff back and they were just happy.’

‘You don’t want to go back to the police.’

‘I know. I’m just saying. It gets me every time with these restitution cases.’

‘Well, you earned our fee on a case where I wasn’t sure you’d be able to. And it’s all money towards your house move, yes? So we should both be happy. Here.’ Janey pushes a folder across her desk. ‘This should cheer you up. Came in last night. It looks pretty straightforward.’

Paul takes the papers out of the folder. A portrait of a woman, missing since 1916, its theft only discovered a decade ago during an audit of the artist’s work by his surviving family. And there, on the next sheet of paper, an image of the painting in question, now hanging boldly on a minimalist wall. Published in a glossy magazine several years ago.

‘First World War?’

‘Statute of limitations doesn’t apply, apparently. It seems pretty clear cut. They say they have evidence that Germans stole the painting during the war, and it was never seen again. A few years ago some family member opens an old glossy magazine and what do you think is sitting there in the centre spread?’

‘They’re sure it’s the original?’

‘It’s never been reproduced.’

Paul shakes his head, the morning’s events briefly forgotten, conscious of that brief, reflexive twinge of excitement. ‘And there it is. Nearly a hundred years later. Just hanging on some rich couple’s wall.’

‘The feature just says central London. All those Ideal Home type features do. They don’t want to encourage burglars by giving the exact address. But I’m guessing it shouldn’t be too hard to trace them – it names the couple after all.’

Paul shuts the folder. He keeps seeing Mr Nowicki’s tight mouth, the way the son had looked at his father as if he’d never seen him before. ‘You’re American, yes?’ the old man had said to him, as they stood at his office door. ‘You cannot possibly understand.’

Janey’s hand is resting lightly on his arm. ‘How’s the house hunting going?’

‘Not great. Everything good seems to get snapped up by cash buyers.’

‘Well, if you want cheering up, we could go and get a bite to eat. I’m not doing anything tonight.’

Paul raises a smile. He tries not to notice the way Janey’s hand moves to her hair, the painfully hopeful slant to her smile. He steps away. ‘I’m working late. Got a couple of cases I want to get on top of. But thanks. I’ll get on to the new file first thing in the morning.’

Liv arrives home at five, having cooked her father a meal and vacuumed the ground floor of his house. Caroline rarely vacuums, and the colours of the faded Persian runners had been noticeably more vivid when she finished. Around her, the city seethes on a warm late summer day, the traffic noises filtering up, with the smell of diesel rising from the tarmac.

‘Hey, Fran,’ she says, as she reaches the main door.

The woman, woollen hat rammed low over her head despite the heat, nods a greeting. She is digging around in a plastic bag. She has an endless collection of them, tied with twine or stuffed inside each other, which she endlessly sorts and rearranges. Today she has moved her two boxes, covered with a blue tarpaulin, to the relative shelter of the caretaker’s door. The previous caretaker tolerated Fran for years, even using her as an unofficial parcel stop. The new one, she says, when Liv brings her down a coffee, keeps threatening to move her. Some residents have complained that she is lowering the tone. ‘You had a visitor.’

‘What? Oh. What time did she go?’ Liv had not left out either a note or a key. She wonders whether she should stop by the restaurant later to make sure Mo is okay. Even as she thinks it, she knows she won’t. She feels vaguely relieved at the prospect of a silent, empty house.

Fran shrugs.

‘You want a drink?’ Liv says, as she opens the door.

‘Tea would be lovely,’ Fran says, adding, ‘Three sugars, please,’ as if Liv has never made her one before. And then, with the preoccupied air of someone who has far too much to do to stand around talking, she goes back to her bags.

She smells the smoke even as she opens the door. Mo is sitting cross-legged on the floor by the glass coffee-table, one hand around a paperback book, the other resting a cigarette against a white saucer.

‘Hi,’ she says, not looking up.

***

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