‘You left them on the side.’
She freezes. ‘Oh. Hi.’
‘Can I come up?’
‘You really don’t have to. I –’
‘Please? We need to talk.’
There is no time to check her face or brush her hair. She stands, one finger on the door button, hesitating. She depresses it, then moves back, like someone bracing themselves for an explosion.
The lift rattles its way up, and she feels her stomach constrict as the sound grows louder. And then there he is, gazing straight at her through the railings of the lift. He is wearing a soft brown jacket and his eyes are uncharacteristically wary. He looks exhausted.
He steps out of the lift, and waits in the hallway. She stands, her arms folded defensively.
‘Can I … come in?’
She steps back. ‘Do you want a drink? I mean … are you stopping?’
He catches the edge in her voice. ‘That would be great, thank you.’
She walks through the house to the kitchen, her back rigid, and he follows. As she makes two mugs of tea, she is conscious of his eyes on her. When she hands one to him he is rubbing meditatively at his temple. When he catches her eye he seems almost apologetic. ‘Headache.’
Liv glances up at the little modelling-clay figure on the fridge and flushes with guilt. As she passes she deliberately knocks it down the back of the fridge.
Paul places his mug on the table. ‘Okay. This is really difficult. I would have come over sooner but I had my son and I needed to think what I was going to do. Look, I’m just going to come out and explain the whole thing. But I think maybe you should sit down first.’
She stares at him. ‘Oh, God. You’re married.’
‘I’m not married. That would … almost be simpler. Please, Liv. Just sit.’
She remains standing. He pulls a letter from his jacket and hands it to her.
‘Just read it. And then I’ll do my best to explain.’
Suite 6, 115 Grantham Street
15 October 2006
Dear Mrs Halston
We act for an organization called the Trace and Return Partnership, created to return works of art to those who suffered losses due to looting or the forced sale of personal artefacts during wartime.
We understand that you are the owner of a painting by the French artist Édouard Lefèvre, entitled The Girl You Left Behind. We have received written confirmation from descendants of Mr Lefèvre that this was a work in the personal possession of the artist’s wife and the subject of a forced or coercive sale. The claimants, who are also of French nationality, wish to have the work returned to the artist’s family, and under the Geneva Convention and the terms of the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, we wish to inform you that we will be pursuing such a claim on their behalf.
In many cases such works can be restored to their rightful owners with the minimum legal intervention. We therefore invite you to contact us to arrange a meeting between yourselves and representatives of the Lefèvre family in order that we may commence this process.
We appreciate that such notice may come as something of a shock. But we would remind you that there is a strong legal precedent for the return of works of art obtained as the result of wartime transgressions, and I would add that there may also be some discretionary funding to compensate for your loss.
We hope very much that, as with other works of this nature, the satisfaction of knowing a work is finally being returned to its rightful owners will grant those affected some additional satisfaction.
Please do not hesitate to contact us if you wish to discuss this further.
She stares at the name at the bottom of the page and the room recedes. She re-reads the words, thinking this must be a joke. No, this is another Paul McCafferty, an entirely different Paul McCafferty. There must be hundreds of them. It’s a common enough name. And then she remembers the peculiar way he had looked at the painting three days earlier, the way he had been unable to meet her eye afterwards. She sits down heavily in her chair.
‘Is this some kind of a joke?’
‘I wish it was.’
‘What the hell is TARP?’
‘We trace missing works of art and oversee their restoration to their original owners.’
‘We?’ She stares at the letter. ‘What … what does this have to do with me?’
‘The Girl You Left Behind is the subject of a restitution request. The painting is by an artist called Édouard Lefèvre. His family want it back.’
‘But … this is ridiculous. I’ve had it for years. Years. The best part of a decade.’
He reaches into his pocket and pulls out another letter, with a photocopied image. ‘This came to the office a couple of weeks ago. It was sitting in my in-tray. I was busy with other stuff so I didn’t put the two things together. Then, when you invited me up the other night, I recognized it immediately.’
She scans it, glances at the photocopied page. Her own painting stares back at her from the coloured page, its colours muddied through reproduction. ‘The Architectural Digest.’
‘Yeah. I think that was it.’
‘They came here to do a piece on the Glass House when we were first married.’ Her hand lifts to her mouth. ‘David thought it would be good publicity for his practice.’
‘The Lefèvre family have been conducting an audit into all Édouard Lefèvre’s works, and during the course of it they discovered several were missing. One is The Girl You Left Behind. There is no documented history for it after 1917. Can you tell me where you got it?’
‘This is crazy. It was … David bought it from an American woman. In Barcelona.’
‘A gallery owner? Have you got a receipt for it?’
‘Of sorts. But it’s not worth anything. She was going to throw it away. It was out on the street.’
Paul runs a hand over his face. ‘Do you know who this woman was?’
Liv shakes her head. ‘It was years ago.’
‘Liv, you have to remember. This is important.’
She explodes: ‘I can’t remember! You can’t come in here and tell me I have to justify ownership of my own painting just because someone somewhere has decided it once belonged to them a million years ago! I mean, what is this?’ She walks around the kitchen table. ‘I – I can’t get my head round it.’
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