How little Gabriel had changed in the twenty-five years since they had first met. A few more wrinkles around those watchful eyes, a few more pounds on his spare frame. He'd been little more than a boy that day, quiet as a church mouse. Even then, his hair was streaked with gray, the stain of a boy who'd done a man's job. "Julian Isherwood, meet Gabriel," Shamron had said. "Gabriel is a man of enormous talent, I assure you."
Enormous talent, indeed, but there had been gaps in the young man's provenance--like the missing three years between his graduation from the prestigious Betsal'el School of Art in Jerusalem and his apprenticeship in Venice with the master restorer Umberto Conti. "Gabriel spent time traveling in Europe," Shamron had said curtly. That was the last time the subject of Gabriel's European adventures was ever raised. Julian Isherwood didn't talk about what had happened to his father, and Gabriel didn't talk about the things he had done for Ari Shamron, alias Rudolf Heller, from approximately 1972 to 1975. Secretly, Isherwood referred to them as the Lost Years.
Isherwood reached into the breast pocket of his jacket and withdrew a check. "Your share from the sale of the Vecellio. One hundred thousand pounds."
Gabriel scooped up the check and pocketed it with a smooth movement of his hand. He had magician's hands and a magician's sense of misdirection. The check was there, the check was gone.
"How much was your share?"
"I'll tell you, but you must first promise me that you won't divulge the figure to any of these vultures," Isherwood said, sweeping his hand across the dining room of Green's.
Gabriel said nothing, which Isherwood interpreted as a blood oath of everlasting silence.
"Pounds, petal. Pounds."
"Who bought it?"
"A very nice gallery in the American Midwest. Tastefully displayed, I assure you. Can you imagine? I picked it up for sixteen thousand from a dusty sale room in Hull on the hunch--the wild bloody hunch--that it was the missing altarpiece from the church of San Salvatore in Venice. And I was right! A coup like this comes along once in a career, twice if you're lucky. Cheers."
They toasted each other, stemmed wineglass to bone-china teacup. Just then a tubby man with a pink shirt and pink cheeks to match presented himself breathlessly at their table.
"Julie!" he sang.
"Word on Duke Street is you picked up a cool million for your Vecellio."
"Where the bloody hell did you hear that?"
"There are no secrets down here, love. Just tell me if it's the truth or a dirty, seditious lie." He turned to Gabriel, as if noticing him for the first time, and thrust out a fleshy paw with a gold-embossed business card wedged between the thick fingers. "Oliver Dimbleby. Dimbleby Fine Arts."
Gabriel took the card silently.
"Why don't you join us for a drink, Oliver?" said Isherwood.
Beneath the table Gabriel put his foot on Isherwood's toe and pressed hard.
"Can't now, love. That leggy creature in the booth over there has promised to whisper filth into my ear if I buy her another glass of champagne."
"Thank God!" blurted Isherwood through clenched teeth.
Oliver Dimbleby waddled off. Gabriel released the pressure on Isherwood's foot.
"So much for your secrets."
"Vultures," Isherwood repeated. "I'm up now, but the moment I stumble they'll be hovering again, waiting for me to die so they can pick over the bones."
"Maybe this time you should watch your money a little more carefully."
"I'm afraid I'm a hopeless case. In fact-"
"-I'm traveling to Amsterdam to have a look at a painting next week. It's the centerpiece of a triptych, classified as artist unknown, but I have another one of my hunches. I think it may have come from the workshop of Rogier van der Weyden. In fact, I may be willing to bet a great deal of money on it."
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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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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