"Van der Weydens are notoriously difficult to authenticate. There are only a handful of works firmly attributed to him, and he never signed or dated any of them."
"If it came from his workshop, his fingerprints will be on it. And if there's anyone who can find them, it's you."
"I'll be happy to take a look at it for you."
"Are you working on anything now?"
"I just finished a Modigliani."
"I have a job for you."
"What kind of job?"
"I received a call from a lawyer a few days ago. Said his client has a painting that requires cleaning. Said his client wanted you to handle the job and would pay handsomely."
"What's the client's name?"
"What's the painting?"
"So how is it supposed to work?"
"You go to the villa, you work on the painting. The owner pays for your hotel and expenses."
Something flashed behind Gabriel's green eyes, a vision, a memory. Isherwood frantically rifled through the file drawers of his own less reliable memory. Have I ever sent him to Zurich for Herr Heller?
"Is Zurich a problem?"
"No, Zurich is fine. How much would I be paid?"
"Twice what I've just given you--if you start right away."
"Give me the address."
Gabriel did not have time to return to Cornwall to pick up his things, so after lunch he went shopping. In Oxford Street he purchased two changes of clothing and a small leather bag. Then he walked over to Great Russell Street and visited the venerable art-supply store of L. Cornelissen & Son. A flaxen-haired angel called Penelope helped him assemble a traveling kit of pigments, brushes, and solvents. She knew him by his work name, and he flirted with her shamelessly in the faded accent of an Italian expatriate. She wrapped his things in brown paper and bound them with a string. He kissed her cheek. Her hair smelled of cocoa and incense.
Gabriel knew too much about terrorism and security to enjoy traveling by airplane, so he rode the Underground to Waterloo Station and caught a late-afternoon Eurostar to Paris. In the Gare de l'Est he boarded a night train for Zurich, and by nine o'clock the next morning he was strolling down the gentle sweep of the Bahnhofstrasse.
How gracefully Zurich conceals her riches, he thought. Much of the world's gold and silver lay in the bank vaults beneath his feet, but there were no hideous office towers to mark the boundaries of the financial district and no monuments to moneymaking. Just understatement, discretion, and deception. A scorned woman who looks away to hide her shame. Switzerland.
He came upon the Paradeplatz. On one side of the square stood the headquarters of Credit Suisse, on the other the Union Bank of Switzerland. A burst of pigeons shattered the calm. He crossed the street.
Opposite the Savoy hotel was a taxi stand. He climbed into a waiting car after first glancing at the registration number and committing it to memory. He gave the driver the address of the villa, doing his best to conceal the Berlin accent he had acquired from his mother.
Crossing the river, the driver switched on the radio. An announcer was reading the overnight news. Gabriel struggled to comprehend his Zridtsch. He tuned out the radio and focused on the task ahead. There were some in the art world who thought of restoration as tedious work, but Gabriel viewed each assignment as an adventure waiting to unfold; an opportunity to step through a looking glass into another time and place. A place where success or failure was determined by his own skills and nerve and nothing else.
He wondered what awaited him. The very fact that the owner had specifically requested him meant that the work was almost certainly an Old Master. He could also assume that the painting was quite dirty and damaged. The owner wouldn't have gone to the trouble and expense of bringing him to Zurich if it required only a fresh coat of varnish.
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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