So how long would he be here? Six weeks? Six months? Difficult to say. No two restorations were the same; much would depend on the condition of the painting. Isherwood's Vecellio had required a year to restore, though he had taken a brief sabbatical in the middle of the job, courtesy of Ari Shamron.
The Rosenbhlweg was a narrow street, just wide enough to accommodate two cars at once, and it rose sharply up the slope of the Zrichberg. The villas were old and big and huddled closely together. Stucco walls, tile roofs, small tangled gardens. All except the one where the taxi driver pulled to a stop.
It stood atop its own promontory and unlike its neighbors was set several meters back from the street. A high metal fence, like the bars of a jail cell, ran round the perimeter. At the level of the pavement there was a security gate, complete with a small surveillance camera. Beyond the gate rose a flight of stone steps. Then came the villa, a melancholy graystone structure with turrets and a towering front portico.
The taxi drove off. Below lay central Zurich and the lake. Cloud veiled the far shore. Gabriel remembered that it was possible to see the Alps on a clear day, but now they too were shrouded.
Mounted next to the gate on a stone wall was a telephone. Gabriel picked up the receiver, heard ringing at the other end of the line, waited. Nothing. He replaced the receiver, picked it up again. Still no answer.
He pulled out the lawyer's fax that Julian Isherwood had given him in London. You are to arrive at precisely 9 a.m. Ring the bell and you'll be escorted inside. Gabriel looked at his watch. Three minutes after nine.
As he slipped the papers back into his pocket it began to rain. He looked around: no cafes where he might sit in comfort, no parks or squares where he might find some shelter from the weather. Just a desert of inherited residential wealth. If he stood on the pavement too long, he'd probably be arrested for loitering.
He pulled out his mobile phone and dialed Isherwood's number. He was probably still on his way to the gallery. As Gabriel waited for the connection to go through, he had a mental image of Isherwood, hunched over the wheel of his shining new Jaguar motorcar, crawling along Piccadilly as if he were piloting an oil tanker through treacherous waters.
"Sorry, but I'm afraid there's been a change in plan. The fellow who was supposed to meet you was apparently called out of town suddenly. An emergency of some sort. He was vague about it. You know how the Swiss can be, petal."
"What am I supposed to do?"
"He sent me the security codes for the gate and the front door. You're to let yourself in. There's supposed to be a note for you on the table in the entrance hall explaining where you can find the painting and your accommodations."
"Rather unorthodox, don't you think?"
"Consider yourself fortunate. It sounds as if you're going to have the run of the place for a few days, and you won't have anyone watching over your shoulder while you work."
"I suppose you're right."
"Let me give you the security codes. Do you have paper and pen by any chance? They're rather long."
"Just tell me the numbers, Julian. It's pouring rain, and I'm getting soaked out here."
"Ah, yes. You and your little parlor tricks. I used to have a girl at the gallery who could do the same thing."
Isherwood rattled off two series of numbers, each eight digits in length, and severed the connection. Gabriel lifted the receiver of the security phone and punched in the numbers. A buzzer sounded; he turned the latch and stepped through the gate. At the front entrance of the house he repeated the routine, and a moment later he was standing in the darkened front hall, groping for a light switch.
Reprinted from The English Assassin by Daniel Silva by permission of The Putnam Publishing Group, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © March 2002, Daniel Silva. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
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