When Vincent van Gogh's Portrait of Monsieur Trabuc turns up unexpectedly at the Metropolitan Museum of Art--a $50 million painting shipped from Argentina via UPS, like an ordinary package--the case goes to Clay Ryder, the NYPD Major Case Squad detective assigned to art theft. Ryder discovers that in Paris, late 1944, a Jewish widow accused a German SS officer of stealing the painting. The officer was reported to have died in a car crash at the war's end, and the whereabouts of the Trabuc between then and now remain a mystery. Ryder's search for the widow's heirs leads him to Rachel Meredith, who teaches at NYU. The museum presents the painting to her in a spectacular public ceremony that winds up on the front page of newspapers around the world. Though the case is closed, Ryder can't seem to shake it. When Rachel Meredith is attacked, she calls on him; what might be a simple assault doesn't quite add up. And he still wonders who sent the van Gogh from Argentina. One of his most reliable contacts in the art world floats a theory that ties the van Gogh portrait to a black market auction in the 70's that might have involved a Swiss art dealer and an international crime kingpin with unlimited cash. Then Israel's Mossad pays Ryder a clandestine visit; the news splash about the van Gogh is the first link they've had to the SS officer in decades. At the publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management software (DRM) applied.
There are no customer reviews available at this time. Would you like to write a review?
April 01, 2007
Number of Print Pages*
* Number of eBook pages may differ. Click here for more information.
Excerpt from The Lost Van Gogh by A. J. Zerries
Neither of the two men trusted the other, but that, after all, was the nature of the business.
Anxious to get started, uncomfortably close, they faced one another in the semidarkness, each with a shoulder pressed against the exit door to the roof. The tight, airless space at the top of the fire stairs barely concealed them, and they strained to keep apart, to maintain the few inches separating them during the long wait.
When they finally emerged at ten-thirty, the brisk breeze that had whipped up at sundown was gone, smothered by a thick, warm haze. Below them, neighborhood air conditioners coughed into action, many for the first time, even though May was nearly over. Nineteen ninety-nine was one of those years when the only sign of spring had been the steady lengthening of the damp, cool days.
Their black clothes and three-day beards were indistinguishable from the rooftop, a vast tarpaper field interrupted by stray ducts and pipes, mechanical weeds sprouting toward the night sky. The shorter man dropped his gym bag next to a vent and knelt to open it. The bag was packed in exact order: the coiled line that ended in a small, four-pronged grappling hook was right on top.
His partner, a man of average height and build, lifted it out and hoisted himself up onto the flat roof of the shed that topped the stairwell. When he stood, legs slightly apart, he was as close as he would come to the twentieth-floor penthouse across the street, two stories above. Both co-op apartment buildings fronted the west side of Park Avenue, and each was by far the tallest structure on its block. Blurred by the night, the two buildings hunkered like opposing mountain peaks on the northwest and southwest corners, the side street a narrow gorge between them. The man on the shed gathered up the line below the hook until he came to the dull glow of a fluorescent paint stripe, then let the rest slither down the side of the shed.
The trickiest part came next, and the smaller man was convinced his new associate--it was the first time they'd worked together--hadn't practicedenough. After all, this was basically a one-shot deal. The slightest miscalculation, and a window could shatter, a chunk of masonry dislodge--hazards not even all the whirring, croaking air conditioners on Park Avenue could drown out. Besides, the guy's eyes had made him jumpy right from the start: heavy-lidded, they moved slow as two gray garden slugs ... and they never stopped moving. Bracing himself for his partner's screwup, the little guy grabbed his end of the line, just above where it ended in a loop.
Like an easygoing cowboy, the taller man began to swing the line in a lazy circle over his head. Never looking up, he played it out gradually, simultaneously increasing the energy behind its orbit. His hips swung into the rotation, gyrated along for a while, and then he let it fly. The rope soared, arced, and plummeted.
As soon as he heard the faint, metallic clink, the man with the sleepy eyelids began to reel in through his long fingers. The hook had landed on target, and he nodded approvingly at the first hint of a drag on the line. He imagined it skipping from stone to stone along the penthouse terrace. Then, nothing ... no resistance at all. His fingers stopped. The terrace was enclosed by a three-anda-half-foot stone balustrade, with vase-shaped balusters that tapered at the top and bottom. The hook had to be dangling between two of them. Unless one of its barbs caught on the curved stone handrail, it would glide right over the top and nose-dive into his building. If it hit a window and alerted a tenant, they'd be forced to abort the job, with a reduced chance of exiting the building undetected.
His breathing shallow, he resumed. Slow and steady, he spooled in the line. It jerked slightly, then locked. Tentatively, he gave it a light tug, then several more, each progressively harder, hoping every yank was working at least one of the prongs deeper and deeper into the railing. Satisfied, he signaled down to his partner to start walking backward with the loop end; every reverse step would increase the tautness of the line.
After flexing his fingers a few times, the taller man hopped off the shed and went straight to the gym bag. He retrieved the next two items, a circle of chain and a ratchet-lever-hoist. He dropped the chain around a sturdy rooftop pipe and attached it to the hook that was on one side of the hoist. Extending from the other side of the hoist was a five-foot chain with a snap link at the end. His partner stretched the rope to it, and, with a sharp, hungry click, it closed over the loop. Then the man with the droopy eyelids worked the hoist's lever; it creaked as the chain fed through, squeezing the slack out of the line. He cranked until the rope was taut, but not rigid. His part had gone well. Now it was all up to the little spider shit, who was peeling off his sweats and running shoes.
His body, sheathed in a one-piece suit of black stretch fabric, could have belonged to a prepubescent child: a flat, compact tube of a torso, no butt, five feet five, one hundred twenty pounds. His face, however, which had been battered far more frequently than it had been repaired, gave no indication it hadever spent much time looking childlike. He dipped into the gym bag and pulled out lightweight ankle boots. Like the rest of his personal gear, they fastened with Velcro strips. Next were two bands fitted with scabbards: the one holding his knife went around his right leg; the one with the pencil flashlight strapped over the left. A thin nylon belt with a pouch in front circled his waist, and a flat strap looped across his back and chest on a diagonal. Tugging on the balaclava--its eyeholes were no bigger than quarters--loosened his earpiece, and it was difficult forcing it back into place through the snug fabric. Last came the gloves, which he worked over his hands as he strode to the parapet.
The tense line slanted low over the edge. Out of habit, he stood in place, scraping his soles back and forth over the gritty tarpaper. He didn't pray. He turned, leaned back, and slipped under the line. Reaching over his head, he grabbed it with both hands, then hooked his ankles around it. The top of his head was closest to the penthouse, his buttless ass closest to the pavement eighteen--soon to be twenty--stories below. If he was going to fall, better higher than lower. Better to splatter than shatter.
Long ago, he'd learned to put himself above it all, in every sense. Nothing could shake his concentration: not the constant thrum of the city, not thoughts of how he'd spend this job's payoff, not the risk of being sighted, not even fear of falling. Hand over hand, propelling himself up with his feet, he advanced steadily until he sensed the building just above his head. Ankles locked tight, he held on with one hand while the other went exploring. The base of one of the balusters was at his shoulder, and he slid his hand around it, twisted his torso, and scrambled over the railing.
The diagram in the information packet he'd memorized depicted the L-shaped terrace as wide, but it didn't prepare him for the lush country garden that sprawled before him. Even through the balaclava, he could smell the fat pink flowers that spilled over vat-size clay pots, the damp earth, and freshly cut grass. Randall Broyce, the guy he was about to rob, had posed next to an antique mower in the New York Times article--also thoughtfully included by his employer. Clearly, it wasn't just a photo prop.
"My horticultural addiction, my summer hobby," Broyce had described his patch of green up in the blue. With Central Park two blocks away, the thief didn't see the point of hauling three tons of earth twenty stories skyward. The only part of the garden he'd consider keeping was the gurgling fountain: a marble boy exactly his size, with a smile (a little shy or a little sly?) difficult to read behind the flute raised to his lips.
No pictures of the apartment's interior appeared in the newspaper story, but Broyce's winter hobby was well known; he was one of the most active art collectors in New York City.
The boss's report had also noted that the elevator vestibule and the fire stairs were protected by an unbreachable security system. These constituted thepenthouse's only possible entry points ... until tonight. The very same night Mr. and Mrs. Randall Broyce were cosponsoring a charity fundraiser at the botanical garden up in the Bronx.
Multiple sets of French doors led into the penthouse, and he entered the closest pair. They led into the master bedroom, where a single lamp spread a faintly rosy glow over embroidered bed linens. The painting on the bedroom wall wasn't high on his shopping list. Confidently, he strode past it, out into a hallway. Bypassing the living room, where Broyce had installed the cornerstones of his collection--two mural-size allegories, far too unwieldy--he slid through the shadows to the climate-controlled room where the more portable masterpieces were housed. To maintain the proper temperature and humidity, the door was supposed to be kept closed at all times, but the thief, wary of cutting himself off from the rest of the vast apartment, left it slightly ajar.
He slipped off the bandolier-style strap and draped it over the top of a wing chair. The section that had spanned his back consisted of a long fabric pouch resembling an umbrella sheath. A flick of his finger undid its Velcro closure, and it fanned out to several times its original width.
Playing his flashlight over the art on the walls, he made matches with the photos locked in his memory. When he came to the primary piece, the one he absolutely would not leave without, he wasted no time. He plucked the El Greco portrait off the wall and laid it facedown on the wide library table in the center of the room. A nudge with his knife in the right places, and the brittle antique gilt frame split with a hollow pop and broke apart. The knife sliced along the rear edge of the backing. Almost tenderly, he laid the canvas on the deeply cushioned seat of the wing chair, then whisked the frame's splintered remnants off the table. Under the balaclava, he was smiling: anything beyond the El Greco was pure gravy.