Shamron, as he entered the foyer, glanced at the mailbox for apartment number three and saw it was absent a nameplate. He mounted the stairs and tramped slowly upward. He was short of stature and was dressed, as usual, in khaki trousers and a scuffed leather jacket with a tear in the right breast. His face was full of cracks and fissures, and his remaining fringe of gray hair was cropped so short as to be nearly invisible. His hands were leathery and liver-spotted and seemed to have been borrowed from a man twice his size. In one was the file.
The door was ajar when he arrived on the third-floor landing. He placed his fingers against it and gently pushed. The flat he entered had once been meticulously decorated by a beautiful Italian-Jewish woman of impeccable taste. Now the furniture, like the beautiful Italian woman, was gone, and the flat had been turned into an artists studio. Not an artist, Shamron had to remind himself. Gabriel Allon was a restorerone of the three or four most sought-after restorers in the world. He was standing now before an enormous canvas depicting a man surrounded by large predatory cats. Shamron settled himself quietly on a paint-smudged stool and watched him work for a few moments. He had always been mystified by Gabriels ability to imitate the brushstrokes of the Old Masters. To Shamron it was something of a parlor trick, just another of Gabriels gifts to be utilized, like his languages or his ability to get a Beretta off his hip and into firing position in the time it takes most men to clap their hands.
It certainly looks better than when it first arrived, Shamron said, but I still dont know why anyone would want to hang it his home.
It wont end up in a private home, Gabriel said, his brush to the canvas. This is a museum piece.
Who painted it? Shamron asked abruptly, as though inquiring about the perpetrator of a bombing.
Bohnams auction house in London thought it was Erasmus Quellinus, Gabriel said. Quellinus might have laid the foundations, but its clear to me that Rubens finished it for him. He moved his hand over the large canvas. His brushstrokes are everywhere.
What difference does it make?
About ten million pounds, Gabriel said. Julian is going to do very nicely with this one.
Julian Isherwood was a London art dealer and sometime secret servant of Israeli intelligence. The service had a long name that had very little to do with the true nature of its work. Men like Shamron and Gabriel referred to it as the Office and nothing more.
I hope Julian is giving you fair compensation.
My restoration fee, plus a small commission on the sale.
Whats the total?
Gabriel tapped his brush against his palette and resumed working.
We need to talk, Shamron said.
Im not going to talk to your back. Gabriel turned and peered at Shamron once more through the lenses of his magnifying visor. And Im not going to talk to you while youre wearing those things. You look like something from my nightmares.
Gabriel reluctantly set his palette on the worktable and removed his magnifying visor, revealing a pair of eyes that were a shocking shade of emerald green. He was below average in height and had the spare physique of a cyclist. His face was high at the forehead and narrow at the chin, and he had a long bony nose that looked as though it had been carved from wood. His hair was cropped short and shot with gray at the temples. It was because of Shamron that Gabriel was an art restorer and not one of the finest painters of his generationand why his temples had turned gray virtually overnight when he was in his early twenties. Shamron had been the intelligence officer chosen by Golda Meir to hunt down and assassinate the perpetrators of the 1972 Munich Massacre, and a promising young art student named Gabriel Allon had been his primary gunman.
Excerpted from The Messenger, Copyright © 2006 Danile Silva. Reproduced with permission of the publishers, Penguin Putnam. Reproduction prohibited. All rights reserved.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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