Sorry if I talked too much about David. It’s hard for me to remember that not everyone …

Really lovely to see you last night. Hope your work eases up soon. If you’re free on Sunday I’d …

What did I do wrong?

She sends none of them. She traces and retraces the stages of the conversation, going over each phrase, each sentence, meticulously, like an archaeologist sifting through bones. Was it at this point that he had changed his mind? Was there something she had done? Some sexual foible she hadn’t been aware of? Was it just being in the Glass House? A house that, while it had no longer held any of his belongings, was so palpably David that it might as well have had his image shot through it like lettering through a stick of rock? Had she misread Paul completely? Each time she considers these potential blunders, her stomach clenches with anxiety.

I liked him, she thinks. I really liked him.

Then, knowing sleep will not come, she climbs out of bed and pads downstairs to the kitchen. Her eyes are gritty with tiredness, the rest of her just hollowed out. She brews coffee and is sitting at the kitchen table, blowing on it, when the front door opens.

‘Forgot my security card. Can’t get into the care home without it at this time. Sorry – I was going to creep in so that I wouldn’t disturb you.’ Mo stops and peers past her, as if looking for someone. ‘So … What? Did you eat him?’

‘He went home.’

Mo reaches into the cupboard and starts fishing around in her spare jacket pocket. She finds her security card and pockets it.

‘You’re going to have to get past this, you know. Four years is too long to not –’

‘I didn’t want him to leave.’ Liv swallows. ‘He bolted.’

Mo laughs and stops abruptly as she realizes that Liv is serious.

‘He actually ran out of the bedroom.’ She doesn’t care that she’s making herself sound tragic: she couldn’t feel any worse than she does already.

‘Before or after you jumped his bones?’

Liv sips her coffee. ‘Guess.’

‘Oh, ouch. Was it that bad?’

‘No, it was great. Well, I thought it was. Admittedly I haven’t had much to go by recently.’

Mo gazes around her, as if looking for clues. ‘You put your pictures of David away, right?’

‘Of course I did.’

‘And you didn’t, like, say David’s name at the crucial moment?’

‘No.’ She remembers the way Paul had held her. ‘I told him he had changed the way I felt about myself.’

Mo shakes her head sadly. ‘Aw Liv. Bad hand. You’ve just been dealt a Toxic Bachelor.’


‘He’s the perfect man. He’s straightforward, caring, attentive. He comes on super-strong until he realizes you like him too. And then he runs a mile. Kryptonite to a certain kind of needy, vulnerable woman. That would be you.’ Mo frowns. ‘You do surprise me, though. I honestly didn’t think he was the type.’

Liv glances down at her mug. Then she says, with just a hint of defensiveness, ‘It’s possible I might have talked about David a bit. When I was showing him the painting.’

Mo’s eyes widen, then lift to the heavens.

‘Well, I thought I could just be straightforward about everything. He knows where I’m coming from. I thought he was okay with it.’

She can hear her voice: chippy. ‘He said he was.’

Mo stands and goes to the breadbin. She reaches in for a slice, folds it in half and takes a bite. ‘Liv – you can’t be straightforward about other men. No man wants to hear about how fantastic the one before was, even if he is dead. You might as well just do a whole spiel on Enormous Penises I Have Known.’

‘I can’t pretend David isn’t part of my past.’

‘No, but he doesn’t have to be your whole present too.’ As Liv glares at her, Mo says, ‘Honestly? It’s like you’re on a loop. I feel like even when you’re not talking about him you’re thinking about talking about him.’

That might have been true even a few weeks ago. But not now. Liv wants to move on. She had wanted to move on with Paul. ‘Well. It doesn’t really matter, does it? I blew it. I don’t think he’ll be coming back.’ She sips her coffee. It burns her tongue. ‘It was stupid of me to get my hopes up.’

Mo puts a hand on her shoulder. ‘Men are weird. It’s not like it wasn’t obvious that you were a mess. Oh, shit – the time. Look, you go out for one of your insane runs. I’ll be back at three o’clock and I’ll call in sick to the restaurant and we can swear a lot and think up medieval punishments for f**kwit men who blow hot and cold. I’ve got some modelling clay upstairs that I use for voodoo dolls. Can you get some cocktail sticks ready? Or some skewers? I’m all out.’

Mo grabs the spare key, salutes her with the folded bread, and is gone before Liv can respond.

In the previous five years TARP has returned more than two hundred and forty works of art to owners, or descendants of owners, who had believed they might never see them again. Paul has heard stories of wartime brutality more appalling than anything he encountered while working in the NYPD; they are repeated with a clarity of recall that suggests they might have happened yesterday, rather than sixty years ago. He has seen pain, borne like a precious inheritance through the ages and writ large on the faces of those left behind.

He has held the hands of old women who have wept bittersweet tears at having been in the same room as a little portrait that was stolen from their murdered parents, the silent awe of younger members of a family seeing a long-missed painting for the first time. He has had stand-up arguments with the heads of major national art galleries, and bitten his lip when long-fought-over sculptures were returned to families, then immediately put up for sale. But for the most part this job, in the five years he has done it, has allowed him to feel he is on the side of some basic right. Hearing the stories of horror and betrayal, of families murdered and displaced by the Second World War, as if those crimes were committed yesterday, and knowing that those victims still lived with the injustices every day, he has relished being part of some small degree of recompense.

He has never had to deal with anything like this.

‘Shit,’ says Greg. ‘That’s tough.’

They are out walking Greg’s dogs, two hyperactive terriers. The morning is unseasonably cold and Paul wishes he had worn an extra jumper.


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