(This is an unedited version of the second chapter of my opus for NaNoWriMo 2010. It is in the mystery genre. Enjoy!)
I think that somehow, we learn who we really are and then live with that decision.
~ Eleanor Roosevelt (1884 – 1962)
The man standing in front of the window was quite distinguished looking – just over six feet tall, with dark gray hair and green eyes. He held a drink in his hand as he gazed out over the city. Had she recognized him? He thought that part of his life was over, that his footsteps had been thoroughly erased. It was all so long ago … a memory that had grown very hazy. He was a different person now, living a different life, and he very much wanted to keep it that way.
“James, are you alright?”
He turned to look at the elegant woman seated in the wing back chair. She wore a pale gray silk suit, with gray pumps. Her blond hair was brushed back from her face, falling softly to her shoulders. “Do you think that she recognized me?”
“Would it matter if she did? All that was a long time ago. There is no path leading from then to now.”
“Nickie, there are always paths. We might not see them, but they are there. Some of them are paths of no return.” James glanced at his watch. “Are you ready? We should be leaving soon, if we hope to get to the gallery on time.”
“Yes, I am ready. The limo should be here in about five minutes. At this time of day, we have plenty of time to get to the gallery.” Nickie stood up, and walked over to James, laying her hand softly on his arm. “We aren’t even sure that what we are looking for is going to be there. It could be just another wild goose chase.”
“I don’t think so. The details have been too specific, and we do know that experts were flown in from Asia, and from France. Heinz Reichman was seen in New York City, boarding a flight for San Francisco. With heavy hitters like that around, we need to act swiftly, but with great prudence.”
Nickie sighed to herself. She and James had been married for twenty years, and had worked together for five years before that. He was cultured and articulate, qualities that she appreciated. They had built up thriving art business, doing private consultations and mediating private and estate sales. Their base had been New York City for all of this time. Six months ago James had decided that it would be beneficial to divide their time between both coasts. It really didn’t matter to her – she had no living family, and they had no children – but she had a strange sense of foreboding, an inner sense that all was not as it seemed to be.
Picking up her black clutch purse she joined James, and they rode their private elevator down to the lobby, where their limo was waiting. Their driver, Jackson, was standing by the car, He opened the door as they approached. Nickie smiled at him as she slid into the car. James had a quiet word with Jackson, and then joined her.
The ride to the gallery was short, and silent. It was a companionable silence, one built on having lived together for many years. James always needed this time – the time before entering a gallery, or a party – to get his thoughts together. Once he stepped through the door, he was his suave, charming self. He was highly respected, both for his knowledge of the art field, and for the manner in which he carried himself.
James handed their invitations to the assistant that greeted them as they entered the gallery. Yolanda Garvey was a thirty-something with a quiet grace about her. She had been with the gallery for the past ten years – ever since she graduated from the University of ***** with an MFA and an MBA. Being able to address both sides of the art world gave her a very competitive edge with their clients. She smiled at James, nodded to Nickie, and mentioned that Heinz Reichman had already arrived. James thanked her, and moved forward with Nickie into the open gallery.
It was easy to tell who was there to see and be seen, and who were the serious collectors. Sometimes those lines were blurred. Directly ahead of them was Janine Mantee, the picture of elegance in a slim cream colored satin dress with sapphire earrings and a sapphire pendant. She was wearing cream colored **** heels, and carrying a cream colored **** clutch purse. Known primarily as a top designer of high-end women’s apparel, over the years she had unassumingly put together a premier collection of *********. Few people, other than close friends and fellow collectors, knew about her collection. She was a very private person outside of business, with residences in both San Francisco and New York.
James had a suspicion that she be branching out, that she was also here tonight to view the prize – a 13th century jade figurine that had recently, and very quietly, come on the market. Only a select few would be viewing the statue, and they would be doing so privately, in the gallery’s Jorge Engle room. Ostentatiously an elegant private viewing room, it was actually a state of the art vault, humidity controlled, with the latest state of the art security features. Knowledge of this room was limited, entrance into it even more so.
James nodded at the waiter, accepting glasses of Chardonnay for Nicki and himself. They walked around the gallery, sipping wine and viewing the collection being presented – dreamscapes from up and coming artist Asher Constance. Done in pastels, the work was haunting, filled with shadows of things not known, where form flowed into form. James and Nicki had been drawn to his work as soon as they saw it, and had several premier works in their private collection.
Yolanda Garvey appeared at James’ side, indicating that Pierre Michel, the gallery owner, was ready to see them. They walked to the back of the gallery, and entered the private corridor. Softly lit, with light blue silk covering on the walls and light gray carpet, there were two ornate oak doors on the left hand side, one of which opened into a well appointed conference room, with the other door opening into a viewing room with cream colored walls, a cream colored rung, a rose sofa and matching chairs. Recessed lighting focused on the seating area, with separate lighting on the wall across from it. There were end tables next to the chairs, and a coffee table in front of the sofa. The walls were plain – no artwork, no statues. There was a low table across from the door, with a simple flower arrangement on it.
The first door on the right-hand side of the corridor lead into Pierre Michel’s office. Yolanda opened the door, stepping back to allow James and Nicki to enter. The gallery owner rose from behind his teakwood desk, walking around and extending his hand to James.
“My friend, I am so happy that you were able to be here tonight! I know that you will not be disappointed. How are you adjusting to life in San Francisco?”
“Pierre, I would not miss this viewing for anything in the world! I could not believe it when we got word from you that you would be representing the figurine. We have heard whispers over the years, but there was never anything to prove its existence. If the province is there, this is a remarkable find.”
Pierre turned to Nicki, kissing her on both cheeks and holding her hand in his. “Nicki, you are just as lovely as ever! I was very happy to hear that you and James were buying a home here in San Francisco. You will make a wonderful addition to our little community.”
Pierre walked over to the bookcase and pushed an unseen button. The bookcase soundlessly moved to the left, revealing a steel door with a keypad to one side, and a camera slot above it. He stated his name, keyed in an access code, placed the fingertips of his right hand on the pad, and looked into the camera slot. The steel door slid open, and he walked into the room beyond, Nicki and James following him. An unseen camera filmed them coming into the room, and then continued filming them. Any guests in this room were aware of the camera, just as they were aware that there was no audio, so that their discussion were absolutely private.
The walls were walnut, with no artwork on them. As in the other viewing room, there was a table along one wall with a flower arrangement on it. The rug in this room was a pale cream. To one side of the room was a sofa, flanked by two deep chairs. There were end tables beside each chair, with a coffee table in front of the sofa. The wall facing the seating area was blank.
From a small table in the corner to the right of the door Pierre poured three glasses of ****** wine, taking two of them over to Nicki and James, who were seated on the sofa. He picked up an elegant plate of hor douevres from the small table, offered them to Nicki and James, then set the plate on the coffee table in front of them.
“What we are going to be looking at is a perfectly maintained example of jade from the 12th century Song dynasty in China. It is a figurine of a Buddha, measuring approximately five inches by three inches. The Song dynasty is famous for its jade figurines, and there are several notable examples in museums such as the ***** in *****, and the ***** in *****.
The figurine that I am showing you has a province that has been authenticated – it belonged to a private individual in China, and was brought by the family to the United States. It was retained in their family for many, many years. The last of the direct family members recently passed away, leaving instructions that the estate was to handle the figurine as it saw fit. Representatives from the estate made the decision to sell the figurine at private auction. They wish to remain anonymous.
Because I am fairly well known both in the art world, and the world of antiquities, I was asked to handle the sale. The first thing that I did was to authenticate the province of the figurine. This was done to my satisfaction. I have a copy of the paperwork here for you to take with you.”
Saying this, Pierre opened the leather folder at his side at took out a thin sheaf of papers, handing them to James. James nodded his head, folded the papers and placed them in his inner jacket pocket.
Pierre slid open a hidden panel in the end table next to him, and clicked a button that brought a wide screen TV down from the ceiling. He clicked another button, and a photograph of a jade Buddha appeared. Several more photographs followed, showing the figurine at different angles. It was a perfect specimen, with no observable flaws.
“Now it is time to see the real thing.” Pierre clicked to retract the TV screen, walked over to the wall and touched one of the panels lightly. It slid open, revealing a column with a climate controlled viewing chamber seated securely on top. In the middle of the chamber, resting on a black cloth, was the jade figurine. Soft light surrounded it from all sides, showing it off to perfection.
Nicki and James stood up from the sofa and walked over to join Pierre. Nicki held her breath – this was an incomparable find!
James turned to Pierre: “This is absolutely incredible! A once in a lifetime find! I take it that you will be doing private bidding on this, as usual?”
It was policy for Pierre to show the artwork that he was brokering privately to individuals that were interested. He then held a private sale, with the bids coming in either by phone or by computer. Both his phone lines and his computer were well safeguarded. To date, there had never been a problem.
“Yes, the bidding will be private. I will be holding it in three days, and will be sending registered letters with the code for the phone number and the link for the invitation only Internet site.”
The three of them shook hands warmly, and went back into Pierre’s office. As if by magic Yolanda appeared, and escorted them back into the main viewing room. They smiled, thanked her, and walked out of the door to their waiting limo. As they pulled out into the traffic, James addressed the driver: “Jackson, were you able to verify that information for me?”
“Yes, Mr. *****, I was able to do that. Hans Reichman arrived on United Airlines flight %%% from La Guardia at 3 pm this afternoon. He is staying at the ##### #####, His reservation is for a week. He was met at the airport by an Asian gentleman who drove him to his hotel.”
“Thank you, Jackson.”
“You’re welcome, Mr. *****” Jackson was used to these requests. His actual skill set was not as chauffer, although he could play the role well. He was a computer expert, well schooled in using the computer as a tool of inquiry. He could find out anything about anybody, in the blink of an eye. He was quick, and he was discrete. He had been with James and Nicki since they left the Company.
(c) December 2010 Bonnie Cehovet