Mo has been a little distant for days. Liv wonders if she has guessed what happened after Paris. Which brings her, like everything, back to Paul.
But there is little point in thinking about Paul.
There is no post, except a mail-shot for fitted kitchens, and two bills.
She takes off her coat and makes herself a mug of tea. She rings her father, who is out. His booming answer-phone message urges her to leave her name and number. ‘You must! We’d LOVE to hear from you!’ She flicks on the radio, but the music is too irritating, the news too depressing. She doesn’t want to go online: there are unlikely to be any emails offering work and she is afraid to see something about the court case. She doesn’t want the pixelated fury of a million people who don’t know her to slide across her computer and into her head.
She doesn’t want to go out.
Come on, she scolds herself. You’re stronger than this. Think what Sophie had to cope with.
Liv puts on some music, just to take the edge off the silence. She loads some laundry into the machine, to give a semblance of domestic normality. And then she picks up the pile of envelopes and papers she has ignored for the last two weeks, pulls up a chair and starts to plough through them.
The bills she puts in the middle; the final demands to the right. On the left she puts anything that is not urgent. Bank statements she ignores. Statements from her lawyers go in a pile by themselves.
She has a large notepad on which she enters a column of figures. She works her way methodically through the list, adding sums and subtracting them, scoring through and putting her workings on the edge of the page. She sits back in her chair, surrounded by the black sky, and stares at the figures for a long time.
Eventually she leans back, gazing up through the skylight. It is as dark as if it were midnight, but when she checks her watch, it’s not yet six o’clock. She gazes at the straight, blameless lines of David’s creation, the way they frame a huge expanse of glittering sky, whichever angle she chooses to look from. She gazes at the walls, at the thermic glass interlaid with special sheets of impossibly thin insulating material that he had sourced from California and China so that the house would be quiet and warm. She gazes at the alabaster concrete wall on which she had once scrawled ‘WHY DON’T YOU BUGGER OFF?’ in marker pen when she and David had argued about her untidiness in the early days of their marriage. Despite the attentions of several specialist removers, you can still make out the ghostly outline of those words if the atmospheric conditions are right. She gazes out at the sky, visible through at least one clear wall in every room, so that the Glass House would always feel as if it were suspended in space, high above the teeming streets.
She walks through to her bedroom and gazes at the portrait of Sophie Lefèvre. As ever, Sophie’s eyes meets hers with that direct stare. Today, however, she does not appear impassive, imperious. Today Liv thinks she can detect new knowledge behind her expression.
What happened to you, Sophie?
She has known she will have to make this decision for days. She has probably always known it. And yet it still feels like a betrayal.
She flicks through the telephone book, picks up the receiver and dials. ‘Hello? Is that the estate agent?’
‘So your painting disappeared when?’
‘1941. Maybe 1942. It’s difficult, because everyone involved is, you know, dead.’ The blonde woman laughs mirthlessly.
‘Yeah, so you said. And can you give me a full description?’
The woman pushes a folder across the table. ‘This is everything we have. Most of the facts were in the letter I sent you in November.’
Paul flicks through the folder, trying to recall the details. ‘So you located it in a gallery in Amsterdam. And you’ve made an initial approach …’
Miriam knocks on the door and enters, bearing coffee. He waits as she distributes the two cups and nods apologetically, backing out again, as if she has done something amiss. He mouths a thank-you, and she winces.
‘Yes, I wrote them a letter. What do you think it’s worth?’
‘What do you think it’s worth?’
Paul looks up from his notes. The woman is leaning back in her chair. Her face is beautiful, clear-skinned and defined, not yet revealing the first signs of age. But it is also, he notices now, expressionless, as if she has grown used to hiding her feelings. Or perhaps it’s Botox. He steals a glance at her thick hair, knowing that Liv could detect immediately if it was entirely her own.
‘Because a Kandinsky would fetch a lot of money, right? That’s what my husband says.’
Paul picks his words carefully. ‘Well, yes, if the work can be proven to be yours. But that’s all some way off. Can we just get back to the issue of ownership? Do you have any proof of where the painting was obtained?’
‘Well, my grandfather was friends with Kandinsky.’
‘Okay.’ He takes a sip of his coffee. ‘Do you have any documentary evidence?’
She looks blank.
‘Photographs? Letters? References to the two of them being friends?’
‘Oh, no. But my grandmother talked about it often.’
‘Is she still alive?’
‘No. I said so in the letter.’
‘Forgive me. What was your grandfather’s name?’
‘Anton Perovsky.’ She spells out his surname, pointing at his notes as she does so.
‘Any surviving members of the family who might know about it?’
‘Do you know if the work has ever been exhibited?’
He’d known it would be a mistake to start advertising, that it would lead to flaky cases like this. But Janey had insisted. ‘We need to be proactive,’ she had said, her vocabulary skewed by management-speak. ‘We need to stabilize our market share, consolidate our reputation. We need to be all over this market like a bad suit.’ She had compiled a list of all the other tracing and recovery companies and suggested they send Miriam to their competitors as a fake client, to see their methods. She had appeared completely unmoved when he had told her this was crazy.
‘You’ve done any basic searches on its history? Google? Art books?’
‘No. I assumed that was what I’d be paying you for. You’re the best in the business, yes? You found this Lefèvre painting.’ She crosses her legs, glances at her watch. ‘How long do these cases take?’
‘Well, it’s a piece-of-string question. Some we can resolve fairly swiftly, if we have the documented history and provenance. Others can take years. I’m sure you’ve heard that the legal process itself can be quite expensive. It’s not something I would urge you to embark upon lightly.’
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