‘I’m training to walk up them, like Super Mario.’
‘Nice try, Small Fry.’
‘What time are you coming back, Dad?’
In the passenger seat, Paul is scanning the newspapers. There are four accounts of the previous day’s events in court. The headlines suggest an impending victory for TARP and the Lefèvres. He cannot remember the last time he felt less elated by a winning verdict.
‘Damn. The news.’ He checks his watch, leans forward, fiddles with the dial.
‘Survivors of German concentration camps have called on the government to fast-track legislation that would aid the return of works of art looted during wartime …
‘Seven survivors have died this year alone while waiting for legal processes to return their families’ possessions, according to legal sources, a situation that has been described as “a tragedy”.
‘The call comes as the case of a painting allegedly looted during the First World War continues at the High Court –’
Paul leans forward. ‘How do I turn this up?’ Where are they getting this stuff?
‘You want to try Pac-man. Now there was a computer game.’
‘Dad? What time?’
‘Hold on, Jake. I need to listen to this.’
‘– Halston, who claims her late husband bought the painting in good faith. The controversial case illustrates the difficulties for a legal system facing an increasing number of complex restitution cases over the past decade. The Lefèvre case has attracted attention across the globe, with survivors’ groups …’
‘Jesus. Poor Miss Liv.’ Greg shakes his head.
‘I wouldn’t want to be in her shoes.’
‘What’s that supposed to mean?’
‘Well, all that stuff in the papers, on the radio – it’s getting pretty hardcore.’
‘It’s just business.’
Greg gives him the look he turns on customers who ask to run a tab.
‘Yeah? I thought you said these things were always black and white.’
‘You want to back off, Greg? Or maybe I should stop by later and tell you how to run your bar. See how that goes.’
Greg and Jake raise their eyebrows at each other. It’s surprisingly irritating.
Paul swivels in his seat. ‘Jake, I’ll call you once we’re out of court, okay? We’ll go to the pictures or something tonight.’
‘But we’re doing that this afternoon. Greg just told you.’
‘High Court’s coming up on the right. You want me to do a U-turn?’ Greg signals left and pulls up so dramatically that they all lurch forwards. A taxi swerves past them, blaring its disapproval. ‘I’m not sure I should be stopping here. If I get a ticket you’ll pay it, right? Hey – isn’t that her?’
‘Who?’ Jake leans forward.
Paul looks across the road at the crowd outside the High Court. The open area to the front of the steps is packed with people. The throng has grown over the past days, but even shrouded in mist he can detect something different about it today: a choleric atmosphere, its participants’ faces set in expressions of barely concealed antipathy.
‘Uh-oh,’ says Greg, and Paul follows the direction of his gaze.
Across the road, Liv is approaching the court entrance, her hands tight around her bag, her head down as if she is deep in thought. She glances up, and as she understands the nature of the demonstration before her, apprehension crosses her face. Someone shouts her name: Halston. The crowd takes a second to register, and she picks up speed, tries to hurry past, but her name is repeated, a low murmur, which swells, becomes an accusation.
Henry, just visible on the other side of the entrance, walks briskly across the paving towards her as if he can already see what is happening. Liv’s stride falters and he leaps forward, but the crowd surges and shifts, splitting briefly, and swallows her, like some giant organism.
‘What the –’
Paul drops his files and leaps out of the car, sprinting across the road. He hurls himself into the mass and fights his way to the centre. It is a maelstrom of hands and banners, the sound deafening. The word ‘THEFT’ flashes in front of him on a falling banner. He sees a camera flash, glimpses Liv’s hair, grabs for her arm and hears her shout out in fright. The crowd surges forward and almost knocks him off his feet. He spots Henry on the other side of her, pushes towards him, swearing at a man who grabs at his coat. Uniformed officers in neon tabards appear, pulling the protesters away. ‘Break it up. GET BACK. GET BACK.’ His breath catches in his chest, someone thumps him hard in the kidneys, and then they are free, moving swiftly up the steps, Liv between them like a doll. With the crackle and whistle of a police radio, they are ushered in by burly officers, through the security barriers and into the muted peace and safety of the other side. The crowd, denied, yells its protest from outside, the sound echoing off the walls.
Liv’s features are bleached white. She stands mute, one hand lifted in front of her face, her cheek scratched, her hair half out of its ponytail.
‘Jesus. Where were you?’ Henry straightens his jacket angrily, shouting at the officers. ‘Where was Security? You should have foreseen this!’
The officer is nodding at him distractedly, one hand raised, the other holding his radio in front of his mouth as he issues instructions.
‘This is simply not acceptable!’
‘Are you okay?’ Paul releases her. She nods, steps blindly away from him, as if she has only just realized he is there. Her hands are shaking.
‘Thank you, Mr McCafferty,’ Henry says, adjusting his collar. ‘Thank you for diving in. That was …’ He trails off.
‘Can we get Liv a drink? Somewhere to sit down?’
‘Oh, God,’ says Liv, quietly, peering at her sleeve. ‘Somebody spat on me.’
‘Here. Take it off. Just take it off.’ Paul lifts her coat from her shoulders. She appears suddenly smaller, her shoulders bowed as if by the weight of hatred outside.
Henry takes it from him. ‘Don’t worry about it, Liv. I’ll tell one of my staff to get it cleaned. And we’ll make sure you can leave via the back entrance.’
‘Yes, madam. We’ll get you out the back later,’ the policeman says.
‘Like a criminal,’ she says dully.
***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com