‘Better than okay,’ she says. She takes a sip of coffee.
‘I have a new love for Sunday evenings. I can’t imagine why.’
‘Sunday evenings are definitely underrated.’
‘As are unexpected visitors. I was a little worried you were Jehovah’s Witnesses.’ He thinks. ‘Although if Jehovah’s Witnesses did what you did last night I’m guessing they’d get a lot better reception.’
‘You should tell them.’
‘I may just do that.’
There is a long silence. They listen to the dustcart reversing outside, the muffled clash of the bins, eating toast in companionable silence.
‘I missed you, Liv,’ he says.
She tilts her head and rests against him. Outside, two people are talking loudly in Italian. Her muscles ache pleasurably, as if she has let go of some long-held tension that she had barely been aware of. She feels like someone she had forgotten. She wonders what Mo would say about this, then smiles when she realizes she knows the answer.
And then Paul’s voice breaks into the silence: ‘Liv – I’m afraid this case is going to bankrupt you.’
She stares at her mug of coffee.
‘I don’t want to talk about the case.’
‘I’m not going to talk about it in any … detail. I just have to tell you I’m worried.’
She tries to smile. ‘Well, don’t be. You haven’t won yet.’
‘Even if you win. It’s a lot of money on legal fees. I’ve been here a few times so I have a good idea what it’s costing you.’ He puts down his mug, takes her hand in his. ‘Look. Last week I talked to the Lefèvre family in private. My fellow director, Janey, doesn’t even know about it. I explained a little of your situation, told them how much you love the painting, how unwilling you are to let her go. And I got them to agree to offer you a proper settlement. A serious settlement, a good six figures. It would cover your legal fees so far and then some.’
Liv stares at their hands, her own enfolded in his. Her mood evaporates. ‘Are you … trying to persuade me to back down?’
‘Not for the reasons you think.’
‘What does that mean?’
He gazes ahead of him. ‘I found stuff.’
Some part of her grows very still. ‘In France?’
He compresses his mouth as if trying to work out how much to tell her. ‘I found an old newspaper article, written by the American journalist who owned your painting. She talks about how she was given your painting from a store of stolen artwork near Dachau.’
‘So these works were all stolen. Which would lend weight to our case that the painting was obtained illegally and taken into German possession.’
‘That’s a big assumption.’
‘It taints any later acquisition.’
‘So you say.’
‘I’m good at my job, Liv. We’re halfway there. And if there’s further evidence, you know I’m going to find it.’
She feels herself growing rigid. ‘I think the important word there is “if”.’ She removes her hand from his.
He shifts round to face her. ‘Okay. This is what I don’t get. Aside from what is morally right and wrong here, I don’t get why a really smart woman who is in possession of a painting that cost almost nothing, and now knows that it has a dubious past, wouldn’t agree to hand it back in return for a lot of money. A hell of a lot more money than she paid for it.’
‘It’s not about the money.’
‘Oh, come on, Liv. I’m pointing out the obvious, here. Which is that if you go ahead with this case and you lose, you stand to lose hundreds of thousands of pounds. Maybe even your home. All your security. For a painting? Really?’
‘Sophie doesn’t belong with them. They don’t … they don’t care about her.’
‘Sophie Lefèvre has been dead for eighty-odd years. I’m pretty sure it’s not going to make any difference to her one way or the other.’
Liv slides out of the bed, casts around for her trousers. ‘You really don’t understand, do you?’ She hauls them on, zipping them up furiously. ‘God. You are so not the man I thought you were.’
‘No. I’m a man who, surprisingly, doesn’t want to see you lose your house for nothing.’
‘Oh, no. I forgot. You’re the man who brought this crap into my house in the first place.’
‘You think someone else wouldn’t have done this job? It’s a straightforward case, Liv. There are organizations like ours all over the place who would have run with it.’
‘Are we finished?’ She fastens her bra, pulls her jumper over her head.
‘Ah, hell. Look. I just want you to think about it. I – I just don’t want you to lose everything on a matter of principle.’
‘Oh. So all this is about looking out for me. Right.’
He rubs his forehead, as if he’s trying to keep his temper. And then he shakes his head. ‘You know what? I don’t think this is about the painting at all. I think this is about your inability to move on. Giving up the painting means leaving David in the past. And you can’t do that.’
‘I’ve moved on! You know I moved on! What the hell do you think last night was about?’
He stares at her. ‘You know what? I don’t know. I really don’t know.’
When she pushes past him to leave he doesn’t try to stop her.
Two hours later, Liv sits in the taxi watching Henry demolish a coffee and a Danish pastry, her stomach in knots. ‘Got to get the kids to school,’ he says, spraying crumbs through his legs. ‘Never have time for breakfast.’
She is in a dark grey tailored jacket, a flash of bright blue shirt underneath it. She wears these clothes like armour. She wants to say something but her jaw appears to have wired itself shut. She no longer has nerves: she is one giant nerve. If someone touched her she might twang.
‘Guaranteed that just as you sit down with a mug of coffee one of them will come in demanding toast or porridge or whatnot.’
She nods mutely. She keeps hearing Paul’s voice. These works were all stolen.
‘I think for about a year I ate whatever I could grab from the bread bin on the way out. Got quite fond of raw crumpets, actually.’
There are people outside the court. A small crowd is milling in front of the main steps. At first she thinks it must be a group of sightseers – but Henry reaches for her arm as she steps out of the taxi. ‘Oh, Christ. Keep your head down,’ he says.
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