‘What do we know?’ says Kristen.
‘They sell it. And they’re richer than their wildest dreams.’
The kitchen falls silent.
‘Two to three million pounds? But – but we paid two hundred euros for her.’
‘It’s like Antiques Roadshow,’ says Kristen, happily.
‘That’s David. Always did have the Midas touch.’ Sven pours himself a glass of wine. ‘It’s a shame they knew it was in your house. I think, without a warrant or proof of any kind, they might not have been able to prove you had it. Do they know for sure it’s in there?’
She thinks of Paul. And the pit of her stomach drops. ‘Yes,’ she says. ‘They know I have it.’
‘Okay. Well, either way,’ he sits down beside her and puts a hand on her shoulder, ‘we need to get you some serious legal representation. And fast.’
Liv sleepwalks through the next two days, her mind humming, her heart racing. She visits the dentist, buys bread and milk, delivers work to deadline, takes mugs of tea downstairs to Fran and brings them back up when Fran complains she has forgotten the sugar. She barely registers any of it. She is thinking of the way Paul had kissed her, that accidental first meeting, his unusually generous offer of help. Had he planned this from the start? Given the value of the painting, had she actually been the subject of a complicated sting? She Googles Paul McCafferty, reads testimonials about his time in the Art Squad of the NYPD, his ‘brilliant criminal mind’, his ‘strategic thinking’. Everything she has believed about him evaporates. Her thoughts spin and collide, veer off in new, terrible directions. Twice she has felt so sick that she has had to leave the table and splash her face with cold water, resting it against the cool porcelain of the cloakroom.
Last November TARP helped return a small Cézanne to a Russian Jewish family. The value of the painting was said to be in the region of fifteen million pounds. TARP, its website states in the section About Us, works on a commission basis.
He texts her three times: Can we talk? I know this is difficult, but please – can we just discuss it? He makes himself sound so reasonable. Like someone almost trustworthy. She sleeps sporadically, and struggles to eat.
Mo watches all this and, for once, says nothing.
Liv runs. Every morning, and some evenings too. Running has taken the place of thinking, of eating, sometimes of sleeping. She runs until her shins burn and her lungs feel as if they will explode. She runs new routes: around the back-streets of Southwark, across the bridge into the gleaming outdoor corridors of the City, ducking the besuited bankers and the coffee-bearing secretaries as she goes.
She is headed out on Friday evening at six o’clock. It is a beautiful crisp evening, the kind where the whole of London looks like the backdrop to some romantic movie. Her breath is visible in the still air, and she has pulled a woollen beanie low over her head, which she will shed some time before Waterloo Bridge. In the distance the lights of the Square Mile glint across the skyline; the buses crawl along the Embankment; the streets hum. She plugs in her iPod earphones, closes the door of the block, rams her keys into the pocket of her shorts, and sets off at a pace. She lets her mind flood with the deafening thumping beat, dance music so relentless that it leaves no room for thought.
He steps into her path and she stumbles, thrusting out a hand and withdrawing it, as if she’s been burned, when she realizes who it is.
‘Liv – we have to talk.’
He is wearing the brown jacket, his collar turned up against the cold, a folder of papers under his arm. Their eyes lock, and she whips round before she can register any kind of feeling and sets off, her heart racing.
He is behind her. She does not look round but she can just make out his voice above the volume of her music. She turns it up louder, can almost feel the vibration of his footsteps on the paving behind her.
‘Liv.’ His hand reaches for her arm and, almost instinctively, she launches her right hand round and whacks him, ferociously, in the face. The shock of impact is so great that they both stumble backwards, his palm pressed against his nose.
She pulls out her earphones. ‘Leave me alone!’ she yells, recovering her balance. ‘Just piss off.’
‘I want to talk to you.’ Blood trickles through his fingers. He glances down and sees it. ‘Jesus.’ He drops his files, struggles to get his spare hand into his pocket, pulling out a large cotton handkerchief, which he presses to his nose. The other hand he holds up in a gesture of peace. ‘Liv, I know you’re mad at me right now but you –’
‘Mad at you? Mad at you? That doesn’t begin to cover what I feel about you right now. You trick your way into my home, give me some bullshit about finding my bag, smooth-talk your way into my bed, and then – oh, wow, what a surprise – there is the painting you just happen to be employed to recover for a great big fat commission.’
‘What?’ His voice is muffled through the handkerchief. ‘What? You think I stole your bag? You think I made this thing happen? Are you crazy?’
‘Stay away from me.’ Her voice is shaking, her ears ringing. She is walking backwards down the road away from him. People have stopped to watch them.
He starts after her. ‘No. You listen. For one minute. I am an ex-cop. I’m not in the business of stealing bags, or even, frankly, returning them. I met you and I liked you and then I discovered that, by some shitty twist of Fate, you happen to hold the painting that I’m employed to recover. If I could have given that particular job to anyone else, believe me, I would have done. I’m sorry. But you have to listen.’
He pulls the handkerchief away from his face. There is blood on his lip.
‘That painting was stolen, Liv. I’ve been through the paperwork a million times. It’s a picture of Sophie Lefèvre, the artist’s wife. She was taken by the Germans, and the painting disappeared straight afterwards. It was stolen.’
‘That was a hundred years ago.’
‘You think that makes it right? You know what it’s like to have the thing you love ripped away from you?’
‘Funnily enough,’ she spits, ‘I do.’
‘Liv – I know you’re a good person. I know this has come as a shock, but if you think about it you’ll do the right thing. Time doesn’t make a wrong right. And your painting was stolen from the family of that poor girl. It was the last they had of her and it belongs with them. The right thing is for it to go back.’ His voice is soft, almost convincing. ‘When you know the truth about what happened to her I think you’re going to look at Sophie Lefevre quite differently.’
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