‘I guess it’s in their interests to make you look like some kind of high-society witch. That way they can spin their poor-French-victim line.’
Liv closes her eyes. If she keeps them closed, perhaps it will just go away.
‘It’s historically wrong, obviously. I mean, there were no Nazis in the First World War. So I doubt if anyone will take any notice. I mean, I wouldn’t worry or anything.’ There is a long silence. ‘And I don’t think anyone will recognize you. You look quite different these days. Much …’ she struggles for words ‘… poorer. And kind of older.’
Liv opens her eyes. There she is, standing beside David, like some wealthy, carefree version of herself.
Mo pulls the spoon from her mouth and inspects it. ‘Just don’t look at the online version, okay? Some of the reader comments are a bit … strong.’
Liv looks up.
‘Oh, you know. Everyone has an opinion these days. It’s all bullshit.’ Mo puts the kettle on. ‘Hey, are you okay if Ranic comes over this weekend? He shares his place with, like, fifteen other people. It’s quite nice to be able to stick your legs out in front of the telly without accidentally kicking someone’s arse.’
Liv works all evening, trying to quell her growing anxiety. She keeps seeing that newspaper report: the headline, the society wife with her raised glass of champagne. She calls Henry, who tells her to ignore it, that it’s par for the course. She finds herself listening almost forensically to his tone, trying to assess whether he is as confident as he sounds.
‘Listen, Liv. It’s a big case. They’re going to play dirty. You need to brace yourself.’ He has briefed a barrister. He tells her the man’s name as if she should have heard of him. She asks how much he costs and hears Henry shuffling papers. When he tells her the sum, she feels as if the air has been punched clean out of her lungs.
The phone rings three times; once it is her father, telling her he has a job in a small touring production of Run for Your Wife. She tells him absently that she’s pleased for him, urges him not to run after anyone else’s. ‘That is exactly what Caroline said!’ he exclaims, and rings off.
The second call is Kristen. ‘Oh, my God,’ she says, breaking in without even a hello. ‘I just saw the paper.’
‘Yes. Not the best afternoon’s reading.’
She hears Kristen’s hand sliding over the receiver, a muffled conversation. ‘Sven says don’t speak to anyone again. Just don’t say a word.’
‘Then where did they get all that awful stuff?’
‘Henry says it probably came out of TARP. It’s in their interests to leak information that makes the case sound as bad as possible.’
‘Shall I come over? I’m not doing much at the moment.’
‘It’s sweet of you, Kristen, but I’m fine.’ She doesn’t want to talk to anyone.
‘Well, I can come to court with you, if you like. Or if you wanted me to put your side of it, I’m sure I have contacts. Perhaps something in Hello!?’
‘That – no. Thanks.’ Liv puts down the phone. It will be everywhere now. Kristen is a far more effective disseminator of information than the evening paper. Liv is anticipating having to explain herself to friends, acquaintances. The painting is already somehow no longer hers. It is a matter of public record, a focus for discussion, a symbol of a wrong.
As she puts the phone down it rings immediately, making her jump.
‘Kristen, I –’
‘Is that Olivia Halston?’
A man’s voice.
She hesitates. ‘Yes?’
‘My name is Robert Schiller. I’m the arts correspondent for The Times. I’m sorry if I’m calling at an inopportune time, but I’m putting together a background piece on this painting of yours and I was wondering if you –’
‘No. No, thank you.’ She slams the phone down. She stares at it suspiciously, then removes the receiver from its cradle, afraid that it will ring again. Three times she places the receiver back on the telephone and each time it rings straight away. Journalists leave their names and numbers. They sound friendly, ingratiating. They promise fairness, apologize for taking up her time. She sits in the empty house, listening to her heart thumping.
Mo arrives back shortly after one a.m. and finds her in front of the computer, the phone off the hook. She is emailing every living expert on French turn-of-the-twentieth-century art. I was wondering if you knew anything about … ; I am trying to fill in the history of … ; … anything you have, or know – anything at all … century art.
‘You want tea?’ Mo says, shedding her coat.
‘Thanks.’ Liv doesn’t look up. Her eyes are sore. She knows she has reached the point where she is merely flicking blindly between websites, checking and rechecking her email, but she can’t stop herself. Feeling as if she is doing something, no matter how pointless, is better than the alternative.
Mo sits down opposite her in the kitchen and pushes a mug towards her. ‘You look terrible.’
Mo watches her type listlessly, takes a sip of her tea, and then pulls her chair closer to Liv. ‘Okay. So let’s look at this with my History of Art, BA Hons, head on. You’ve been through the museum archives? Auction catalogues? Dealers?’
Liv shuts her computer. ‘I’ve done them all.’
‘You said David got the painting from an American woman. Could you not ask her where her mother got it from?’
She shuffles through the papers. ‘The … other side have already asked her. She doesn’t know. Louanne Baker had it, and then we bought it. That’s all she knows. That’s all she ever bloody needed to know.’
She stares at the copy of the evening paper, its intimations that she and David were somehow wrong, somehow morally deficient to have owned the painting at all. She sees Paul’s face, his eyes on her at the lawyer’s office.
Mo’s voice is uncharacteristically quiet. ‘You okay?’
‘Yes. No. I love this painting, Mo. I really love it. I know it sounds stupid, but the thought of losing her is … It’s like losing part of myself.’
Mo’s eyebrows lift a quarter of an inch.
‘I’m sorry. It’s just … Finding yourself in the newspapers as public enemy number one, it’s … Oh, bloody hell, Mo, I don’t know what on earth I’m doing. I’m fighting a man who does this for a living and I’m scrabbling around for scraps and I haven’t a bloody clue.’ She realizes, humiliated, that she is about to cry.
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