The more she reads, the closer she feels to the author of these scraps. She reads the tale of the pig-baby, translating it twice to make sure she has read it right, and wants to cheer at its outcome. She refers back to her court copies, Madame Louvier’s sniffy descriptions of the girl’s disobedience, her courage, her good heart. Her spirit seems to leap from the page. She wishes, briefly, she could talk to Paul about it.
She closes the folder carefully. And then she looks guiltily to the side of her desk, where she keeps the papers she did not show Henry.
The Kommandant’s eyes are intense, shrewd, and yet somehow veiled, as if designed to hide his true feelings. I was afraid that he might be able to see my own crumbling composure.
The rest of the paper is missing, ripped away, or perhaps broken off with age.
‘I will dance with you, Herr Kommandant,’ I said. ‘But only in the kitchen.’
And then there is the scrap of paper, in handwriting that is not Sophie’s. ‘Once it is done,’ it reads, simply, ‘it cannot be undone.’ The first time she read it, Liv’s heart had dropped somewhere to her feet.
She reads and re-reads the words, pictures a woman locked in a secretive embrace with a man supposed to be her enemy. And then she closes the folder and tucks it carefully back under her pile of papers.
‘How many today?’
‘Four,’ she says, handing over the day’s haul of poison-pen letters. Henry has told her not to open anything with handwriting she does not recognize. His staff will do it, and report any that are threatening. She tries to be sanguine about this new development, but secretly she flinches every time she sees an unfamiliar letter now; the idea that all this unfocused hate is out there, just waiting for a target. She can no longer type ‘The Girl You Left Behind’ into a search engine. There were once two historical references but now there are web versions of newspaper reports from across the globe, reproduced by interest groups, and Internet chat-rooms discussing her and Paul’s apparent selfishness, their inherent disregard for what is right. The words spring out like blows: Looted. Stolen. Robbed. Bitch.
Twice, someone has posted dog excrement through the letterbox in the lobby.
There was only one protester this morning, a dishevelled middle-aged woman in a blue mackintosh, who insisted on handing her another home-made leaflet about the Holocaust. ‘This is really nothing to do with me or this case,’ Liv had said, thrusting it back at her.
‘If you do nothing you are complicit.’ The woman’s face was hewn by fury.
Henry had pulled her away. ‘There’s no point in engaging,’ he had said. Oddly, that hadn’t lessened her vague sense of guilt.
Those are the overt signs of disapproval. There are less obvious outcomes from the ongoing court case. The neighbours no longer say a cheery hello, but nod and look at their shoes as they pass. There have been no invitations through her door since the case was revealed in the newspapers. Not to dinner, a private view, or one of the architectural events that she was habitually invited to, even if she usually refused. At first she thought all this was coincidence; now she is starting to wonder.
The newspapers report her outfit each day, describing her as ‘sombre’, sometimes ‘understated’ and always ‘blonde’. Their appetite for all aspects of the case seems endless. She does not know if anyone has tried to reach her for comment: her telephone has been unplugged for days.
She gazes along the packed benches at the Lefèvres, their faces closed and seemingly set in expressions of resigned belligerence, just as they were on the first day. She wonders what they feel when they hear how Sophie was cast out from her family, alone, unloved. Do they feel differently about her now? Or do they not register her presence at the heart of this, just seeing the pound signs?
Paul sits each day at the far end of the bench. She doesn’t look at him but she feels his presence like an electrical pulse.
Christopher Jenks takes the floor. He will, he tells the court, outline the latest piece of evidence that The Girl You Left Behind is, in fact, looted art. It is an unusual case, he says, in that investigations suggest the portrait was obtained by tainted means, not once but twice. The word ‘tainted’ never fails to make her wince.
‘The current owners of the painting, the Halstons, purchased it from the estate of one Louanne Baker. “The Fearless Miss Baker”, as she was known, was a war reporter in 1945, one of a select few such women. There are newspaper cuttings from the New York Register that detail her presence at Dachau at the end of the Second World War. They provide a vivid record of her presence as Allied troops liberated the camp.’
Liv watches the male reporters scribbling intently. ‘Second World War stuff,’ Henry had murmured, as they sat down. ‘The press love a Nazi.’ Two days previously she had sworn two of them were playing Hangman.
‘One cutting in particular tells how Ms Baker spent one day around the time of the liberation at a vast warehouse known as the Collection Point, housed in former Nazi offices near Munich in which US troops stored displaced works of art.’ He tells the story of another reporter, who was given a painting to thank her for helping the Allies at this time. It had been the subject of a separate legal challenge, and had since gone back to its original owners.
Henry shakes his head, a tiny gesture.
‘M’lord, I will now hand round copies of this newspaper article, dated the sixth of November 1945, entitled “How I became the Governor of Berchtesgaden”, which, we contend, demonstrates how Louanne Baker, a humble reporter, came, by extremely unorthodox means, to own a modern masterpiece.’
The court hushes and the journalists lean forwards, pens readied against their notebooks. Christopher Jenks begins to read:
‘Wartime prepares you for a lot of things. But little prepared me for the day I found myself Governor of Berchtesgaden, and of Goering’s haul of some one hundred million dollars’ worth of stolen art.’
The young reporter’s voice echoes across the years, plucky, capable. She comes ashore with the Screaming Eagles on Omaha Beach. She is stationed with them near Munich. She records the thoughts of young soldiers who have never before spent time from home, the smoking, the bravado, the surreptitious wistfulness. And then one morning she watches the troops go out, headed for a prisoner-of-war camp some miles away, and finds herself in charge of two marines and a fire truck. ‘“The US Army could not allow even the possibility of an accident while such treasures were in its custody.”’ She tells of Goering’s apparent passion for art, the evidence of years of systematic looting within the building’s walls, her relief when the US Army came back and she could relinquish responsibility for its haul.
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