He is quiet around his guests, just as he was quiet around the men he stalked for Shamron. He is a chain smoker, but if it bothers the guest he will refrain. A polyglot, he listens to you in whatever language you prefer. His gaze is sympathetic and steady, though behind his eyes it is sometimes possible to detect puzzle pieces sliding into place. He prefers to hold all questions until the visitor has completed his case. His time is precious, and he makes decisions quickly. He knows when he can help. He knows when it is better to leave the past undisturbed.
Should he accept your case, he asks for a small sum of money to finance the opening stages of his investigation. He does so with noticeable embarrassment, and if you cannot pay he will waive the fee entirely. He receives most of his operating funds from donors, but Wartime Claims is hardly a profitable enterprise and Lavon is chronically strapped for cash. The source of his funding has been a contentious issue in certain circles of Vienna, where he is reviled as a troublesome outsider financed by international Jewry, always sticking his nose into places it doesn't belong. There are many in Austria who would like Wartime Claims to close its doors for good. It is because of them that Eli Lavon spends his days behind green bulletproof glass.
On a snow-swept evening in early January, Lavon was alone in his office, hunched over a stack of files. There were no visitors that day. In fact it had been many days since Lavon had accepted appointments, the bulk of his time being consumed by a single case. At seven o'clock, Reveka poked her head through the door. "We're hungry," she said with typical Israeli bluntness. "Get us something to eat." Lavon's memory, while impressive, did not extend to food orders. Without looking up from his work, he waved his pen in the air as though he were writing--Make me a list, Reveka.
A moment later, he closed the file and stood up. He looked out his window and watched the snow settling gently onto the black bricks of the courtyard. Then he pulled on his overcoat, wrapped a scarf twice around his neck, and placed a cap atop his thinning hair. He walked down the hall to the room where the girls worked. Reveka's desk was a skyline of German military files; Sarah, the eternal graduate student, was concealed behind a stack of books. As usual, they were quarreling. Reveka wanted Indian from a take-away just on the other side of the Danube Canal; Sarah craved pasta from an Italian café on the Kärntnerstrasse. Lavon, oblivious, studied the new computer on Sarah's desk.
"When did that arrive?" he asked, interrupting their debate.
"Why do we have a new computer?"
"Because you bought the old one when the Hapsburgs still ruled Austria."
"Did I authorize the purchase of a new computer?"
The question was not threatening. The girls managed the office. Papers were placed beneath his nose, and usually he signed them without looking.
"No, Eli, you didn't approve the purchase. My father paid for the computer."
Lavon smiled. "Your father is a generous man. Please thank him on my behalf."
The girls resumed their debate. As usual it resolved in Sarah's favor. Reveka wrote out the list and threatened to pin it to Lavon's sleeve. Instead, she stuffed it into his coat pocket for safekeeping and gave him a little shove to send him on his way. "And don't stop for a coffee," she said. "We're starving."
It was almost as difficult to leave Wartime Claims and Inquiries as it was to enter. Lavon punched a series of numbers into a keypad on the wall next to the entrance. When the buzzer sounded, he pulled open the interior door and stepped into the security chamber. The outer door would not open until the inner door had been closed for ten seconds. Lavon put his face to the bulletproof glass and peered out.
From A Death In Vienna by Daniel Silva, copyright 2004 Daniel Silva, published by G. P. Putnam's Sons, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., all rights reserved, reprinted with permission from the publisher. This excerpt ends on page 9 of the hardcover edition, at the end of Chapter One.
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