Mo looks at her steadily. ‘Really? I’d like a whole heap of your nothing then.’
Their eyes lock, and slide away. A rush of blood prickles around Liv’s neck.
Mo takes a long breath, leans forward. ‘I get that you have trust issues right now because of the whole Paul thing, but you need to take a step back from it all. And honestly? It’s not like there’s anyone else around who’s going to say this to you.’
‘Well, thanks. I’ll remember that the next time I’m opening up the morning bundle of hate mail, or showing another stranger around my home.’
The look that passes between the two women is unexpectedly cold. It settles into the silence between them. Mo’s mouth compresses, holding back a burst dam of words.
‘Right,’ she says finally. ‘Well, then, I might as well tell you, seeing as this probably couldn’t get any more awkward. I’m moving out.’ She leans down and fiddles with her shoe so that her voice emerges, muffled, from near the tabletop. ‘I’m going to stay with Ranic. It’s not the court case. As you said, me staying at yours was never going to be a long-term thing.’
‘That’s what you want?’
‘I think it’s best.’
Liv is glued to her chair. Two men sit at the next table, not breaking off their conversation. One registers the atmosphere: his eyes slide over and away again.
‘I’m, you know, grateful for the … that you let me stay so long.’
Liv blinks hard, looks away. Her stomach hurts. The conversation at the next table dies to an awkward silence.
Mo takes a last swig of coffee and pushes her cup away. ‘Well. I guess that’s it, then.’
‘I’ll head off tomorrow, if that’s okay. I’ve got a late shift tonight.’
‘Fine.’ She tries to keep her tone even. ‘It’s been … enlightening.’ She doesn’t mean it to sound as sarcastic as it does.
Mo waits just a moment longer before she stands, hauls her jacket on and pulls the strap of her rucksack over her shoulder.
‘Just a thought, Liv. And I know it’s not like I even knew him or anything. But you talked so much about him. Here’s the thing. I keep wondering: what would David have done?’
His name hits the silence like a small explosion.
‘Seriously. If your David had still been alive, and this had all blown up then – all the stuff about the painting’s history, where it might have come from, what that girl and her family might have suffered – what do you think he would have done?’
Leaving that thought suspended in the still air, Mo turns and walks out of the café.
Sven rings as she leaves the café. His voice is strained. ‘Can you stop by the office?’
‘It’s not a great time, Sven.’ She rubs at her eyes, gazes up at the Glass House. Her hands are still trembling.
‘It’s important.’ He puts down the phone before she can say anything else.
Liv turns away from her home and heads towards the office. She walks everywhere now, her head down, a hat pulled low over her ears, avoiding the eyes of strangers. Twice on the way she has to wipe tears surreptitiously from the corners of her eyes.
There are only a couple of people left in the offices of Solberg Halston when she arrives: Nisha, a young woman with a geometric bob, and a man whose name she cannot remember. They look preoccupied so Liv walks through the gleaming lobby to Sven’s office without saying hello. The door is open, and as she goes in, he stands to close it behind her. He kisses her cheek but he doesn’t offer her coffee.
‘How’s the case going?’
‘Not great,’ she says. She is irritated by the perfunctory way in which he has summoned her. Her mind still hums with Mo’s final comment: what would David have done?
And then she notices how grey Sven looks, almost hollowed out, and the slightly fixed way in which he is staring at the notepad in front of him. ‘Is everything okay?’ she says. She has a moment of panic. Please say that Kristen is okay, that the children are all fine.
‘Liv, I have a problem.’
She sits, her bag on her knee.
‘The Goldstein brothers have pulled out.’
‘They’ve pulled the contract. Because of your case. Simon Goldstein rang me this morning. They’ve been following the newspapers. He says … he says his family lost everything to the Nazis, and he and his brother can’t be linked to someone who thinks that’s okay.’
The world stills around them. She looks up at him. ‘But – but he can’t do that. I’m not – I’m not part of the company, surely?’
‘You’re still an honorary director, Liv, and David’s name is very much part of your defence case. Simon is activating a clause in the small print. By fighting this case against all reasonable evidence, you are apparently bringing the company name into disrepute. I told him it was grossly unreasonable, and he says we can contest it, but he has very deep pockets. I quote: “You can fight me, Sven, but I will win.” They’re going to ask another team to finish the job.’
She is stunned. The Goldstein building had been the apotheosis of David’s life’s work: the thing that would commemorate him.
She stares at Sven’s profile, so resolutely unmoving. He looks as if he has been carved from stone. ‘He and his brother … appear to have very strong views on the issue of restitution.’
‘But – but this isn’t fair. We don’t even know the whole truth about the painting yet.’
‘That’s not the point.’
‘But we –’
‘Liv, I’ve been on this all day. The only way in which they are prepared to continue working with our company is if …’ he takes a breath ‘… is if the Halston name is no longer associated with it. That would mean you relinquishing your honorary directorship. And a change of name for the company.’
She repeats the words silently in her head before she speaks, trying to make sense of them. ‘You want David’s name erased from the practice.’
She stares at her knees.
‘I’m sorry. I realize this has come as a shock. But it has to us too.’
A thought occurs to her. ‘And what would happen to my work with the kids?’
He shakes his head. ‘I’m sorry.’
It is as if the very core of her has frozen. There is a long silence, and when she speaks she does so slowly, her voice unnaturally loud in the silent office. ‘So you all decided that because I don’t want to just hand over our painting, the painting David bought legitimately years ago, we must be dishonest somehow. And then you want to erase us from his charity and his business. You erase David’s name from the building he created.’
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