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So many reasons to come to Naples, Lindsey thought as she finished off the final bite of a slice she'd ordered while waiting to meet her backup man. The fabulous view of Vesuvius and the bay; masterpieces at the Capodimonte Art Museum that took her right out of the here and now and into a different world; an exciting air of danger and intrigue from the city's long history with the Mafia; and, of course, the best pizza in the world.
Eager to get into action, she drummed her fingertips on her water glass. She was waiting for Marko Savin at a patio table in the restaurant across the street from the world-famous National Archaeological Museum where she loved to browse, on quieter days, the best finds from Pompeii and Herculaneum.
A sudden strong breeze stroked her neck. February winds off the bay could be quite chilly. Yesterday it had rained. She flipped up the collar of her black leather jacket, guessing the air temperature probably hung around fifty-six degrees. Billowy, gray clouds raced across the sky.
She pushed the plate away and took a drink of bottled water. A sturdy Chianti, as the waiter had suggested, would make the wait easier, but she needed to be at her clearheaded best for today's buyback.
After a month of investigation and then wangling, wheeling and dealing with a thief, she would buy back a painting, a small masterpiece, for its rightful owner. She would purchase an exquisite work by Artemisia Gentileschi. The little-known oilthree feet by four feetwas entitled Cleopatra at the Bath.
Artemisia had painted this Cleopatra in 1650. Lindsey loved the artist because she was one of the few acknowledged women masters of the time. During WWII the Germans stole the painting from the parents of Lindsey's clients. Recently, the grandson of an ex-Nazi officer who'd gone into hiding after the war had apparently stolen the piece from his own grandfather and put it up for sale on the black market. Lindsey's underground contactswhich were extensive since she had carefully cultivated them after becoming a middlewoman in this business over five years agoranged from street sages to shady "fences" to auctioneers, cabdrivers and snooty museum buyers. One had not only been able to help her find the painting, but shared the rumor with her that the grandson, Heinie Gottschalk, wanted the money from the sale to take his little drug-running business to new highs. Or lows, depending on how you looked at it.
She sighed. Maybe that was true. Maybe not. She didn't allow herself to judge or guess at what people did with the money exchanged in the buys. Her job was to serve clients who could not get justice through the legal system. Insurance companies, private businesses and individualsat one time or another, she'd negotiated a deal for them all. The blackmarket buybacks sometimes felt a little shady. After all, her clients didn't like paying for items they rightfully owned. But if her fees sometimes felt like thievery, she at least had the consolation of knowing she was a good thief, on the side of justice.
A man at a nearby table cleared his throat and stared at Lindsey's hand. She stopped drumming. Why hadn't she at least ordered coffee? She recalculated the time to reach Capodimonte Park, the site of the exchange. She'd set up the buyback there not just because the location was convenient and public, but also because of the poetic justice involved. The Capodimonte Palace, built in the late 1700s and now the site of the art museum, displayed what was perhaps Artemisia's best-known piece, done in the chiaroscuro style of the more famous, but in Lindsey's opinion not more talented, Caravaggio, and entitled Judith Slaying Holophernes. Lindsey would buy back a piece of stolen art under the caring eye, so to speak, of the artist herself in the sense that Artemisia lived on in her work.
Lindsey checked her watch. 12:56. Still early. But Savin obviously wasn't. Maybe he'd had a hard time renting a motorcycle on such short notice? She hated last-minute changes.
If she were meeting a friend or even doing business for NSINovak Sicurezza Internazionale, her father's security companytime could be experienced Italian style
casual. She had, however, never worked with Marko Savin before, and today's exchange, like all buys, was potentially dangerous. Everything had to be executed with care. That included timing.
When Lindsey, in a rush early this morning, had called her father from the Florence airport, explaining that a motorcycle accident resulting in a seriously pulled muscle had put her usual backup, Tito, temporarily out of commission, her dad, former Colonel Anton "K-bar" Novak, had highly recommended Marko Savin. "They don't come better," K-bar had said. "I can get him down to Naples for you quickly, no problem."
She crossed her long legs the other direction, black leather pants creaking with the motion. All five-foot-nine of her was in black: black leather, a black turtleneck cashmere sweater under the jacket, black boots. She'd secured her long, dark-red hair in a French braid at the back of her head, pulling it severely away from her face and slicking her bangs away from her forehead. No gentle femininity when dealing with thieves.
Art thieves as a rule didn't engage in violence. She didn't anticipate any problems today, but an unbreakable rule was to show strengthand be prepared for anything. More than once, a seller had tried to double-cross her, taking the money and then attempting to flee with the art. Instant wire transfers were not as common even five years ago and unmarked cash was a terrible temptation. Twice she had barely escaped from attempts by third parties to kill both her and the seller and steal the art. You just never knew. She worked carefully. She did not take unnecessary risks.
12:58. She watched the traffic streaming past the museum, the tourists strolling in and out, and finished off her water. Some of Lindsey's own handiwork could be seen in the museum, which gave her a thrill. Between her junior and senior years at the Athena Academy, she had volunteered as a gofer and assistant for an art restorer in Pompeii, and two pieces Lindsey had researched and assisted in restoring were displayed right across the street. How cool was that!
Athena Academy. Memories rushed her. The Dianas. The painful shame of losing the senior triathlon. The Dianas had, of course, eventually forgiven her for that awful blunder. She'd even been reinstated as "head daredevil." But her tenyear reunion was this year, and part of her dreaded going, knowing she'd take terrible teasing. Oh, Lindsey, I'll never forget how you looked with all that glow-in-the-dark paint splattered over your head. Ha-ha-ha.
She shook her head. Was it ever possible to fully escape shames of the past?
A motorcycle zipped into a spot two doors down from the restaurant. A man she judged to be a couple of years older than she, shut it off and dismounted. He looked toward the restaurant, and Lindsey figured he had to be Marko Savin. She'd not only picked this time and place, she'd told her dad that she wanted Savin to rent a motorcycle, not a car. "I drive a car," she had explained to K-bar. "Tito is always on a bike."
Good-looking, she thought as Savin strode toward her. Confident. Maybe even cocky. That could also mean excessive risk-taker, but she would keep an open mind.
He walked straight to her, pulled out the chair opposite, and sat.
"You're late," she said before she could stop herself. Now why had that popped out? She hadn't meant to launch their day with criticism.
"No, I'm not," he countered, grinning.
Maybe she'd been thrown off stride by his looks. She took in the short-cropped dark brown hair, deep blue eyes, everso-male five o'clock shadow and an intriguing scar under his left eye that she immediately wanted to touch, if not kiss.
I've been without sex way too long.
She stuck out her wrist, displaying her black watch's neonblue time display, at the same moment he stuck out his wrist, displaying his silver watch's black numerals. They both checked the time, and laughed. His watch said 1:00, hers, 1:02.
"It's nice we're both right," she said, happy for a chance to get back on a positive track.
The waiter arrived. "I'm not ordering," Marko Savin said. He had one of the most beautiful baritone voices she'd ever heard. His English had a mild Italian accent. K-bar had explained that Savin was born and raised in Venice but had traveled widely.
"We don't have a lot of time," she hurried on as the waiter sauntered away. "I appreciate your stepping in at the last moment."
"When your father calls, I come. I owe him a great deal."
"He said he found you serving in Kosovo, in the French Foreign Legion."
He nodded. "The Legion taught me a lot, but it's a rough crew. Working for your father's security business is more to my taste. And it let me return to Italy."
"What we're doing today should be an easy job. I don't know if Dad told you what I do as a side venture, when I'm not selling for and promoting NSI business."
Marko Savin angled the free chair at their table and propped one booted foot on it. He wore a black leather jacket with black jeans. "He says you buy back stolen goods for their rightful owners."
"Correct. Today I'm purchasing a painting for a million and a half American dollars." While thinking again how wonderfully deep blue his eyes were, she nodded to the bulky white cotton satchel at her feet. It held a four-foot-long tube which, in turn, held a quality reproduction of the painting. "I'll trade the tube in this satchel for the tube that has the original. There's a minor difference in their labels that only I would notice." On at least four occasions this little bit of confused identification between the original and the copy had worked to good effect for her. A way for her "steal" the painting back if the deal went bad. It might not be needed, but again, better to be prepared for all eventualities than sorry for assuming all would go well.
She explained the history of the Nazi theft of the painting. Savin frowned. "I don't get it. You're paying off a thief, an ex-Nazi, for a painting he stole. Owners shouldn't have to buy back their own stuff."
"The owners just want their painting back."
"Seems to me that's a job for the authorities. They catch the bad guys, retrieve the art, return it, and punish the crooks."
"I'm hired when owners discover that the authorities aren't going to be able to retrieve something the owners very much want returned."
"Isn't that sort of interfering with a criminal investigationfor money?"
His questions were starting to annoy her. "When the authorities can't deliver, people hire me. They're willing to pay a substantial retrieval fee. The fee is, of course, gratifying, but the real satisfactionthe reason I take the risksis because I get to see the joy on my client's faces when I return what they loved and thought they had lost forever. I can assure you that I only work for legitimate owners or their representatives."
"You said the guy is a Nazi! Pretty much scum."
She glared at him. "The seller isn't a Nazi. His grandfather was. But, yeah, I'd deal with a Nazi. I deal with whoever has what owners want returned. And that's why you're here. Sometimes things can go sour. So, you in or no?"
Savin stared right back, then shrugged. "Sure."
"Okay. Here's the action," she continued. "You and I go to the meet, you on the bike, me in my rental car. We arrive a minute apartyou firstand we make no connection. They aren't to know I have muscle behind me. I've made my reputationI am the best and intend to stay that wayby never coming armed and making certain that buyers and sellers get what they expect. I presume you're carrying."
He patted his chest where under the leather jacket she assumed he had a gun. She'd already figured out from the bulge on the calf of the leg propped on the chair that he carried a knife.
"That's fine," she continued. "But there's to be no use of weapons unless it looks like someone is going to kill me. Okay?"
"What I do, and my reputation, depends on being clever, not violent, but I will get the painting back, and I will not get killed doing it."
He smiled. It made his blue eyes twinkle.
From the white satchel she pulled out a map of the Capodimonte Park grounds. She explained where he would park and where Gottschalk was supposed to meet heron an access road about a hundred and fifty yards away.
"If I need help, I'll jab my fist into the air. Or," she slid a small black box to Savin across the table and as he reached for it, his finger brushed the back of her hand. She felt a profound sense of pleasure at his touch.
Stunned, she drew in a slow breath, then, "If I press this," she touched the center of a silver moon pendant, "the green light on your box will go red." The slim moon disk contained a built-in transponder, activated by a three-second touch.
"Don't come in unless I signal, okay? Any questions?"
He shook his head, then said, "I like your earrings. They're exactly the color of your eyes."
For a moment she couldn't find words, surprised at the sudden shift of topic and tone. Her earrings, a gift from K-bar and her mom when she graduated from the Academy, were half-inch, oval studs set in silver. "They're gray star sapphires. From India."
She felt herself warming, knew that her face was reddening. How embarrassing.
She checked her watch. "It's time to go." She lay ample euros on the table, grabbed the satchel and, keeping her eyes off of Marko Savin, headed for the street.