Tuesday, January 1, 2013

90. "the man who buys the mona lisa"

by manfred skyline

illustrated by konrad kraus and rhoda penmarq

editorial consultant: Prof. Dan Leo

for previous chapter, click here

to begin at the beginning, click here

click here for synopsis of all chapters so far

cosima watched from the window as fortescue and carol got into the cab and the cab pulled away from the curb and headed downtown.

williams was waiting behind her. she turned to face him.

"did you say i had a couple of phone calls tonight?"

"indeed i did, miss. i wrote down the names and numbers. i can get them now, if you like."

"no rush. anybody you didn't know?"

williams hesitated. "one call was from mrs babson - young mrs babson, whom we both know very well."

"yes, only too well. and the other?"

"the other was from a gentleman who identified himself as mr slomo. he gave the impression of wanting to introduce himself. so i don't know if you are already acquainted with him."

"slomo?" cosima seemed momentarily startled. then she laughed. "it was probably a joke. from bucky burnside or one of his pals. or pete palomine."

"it didn't sound like mister burnside or mister palomine. of course i could be mistaken."

"well, if they were joking they would have been trying to disguise their voices."

"of course."

cosima stared at williams. "was there something else?"

"well, miss. perhaps i am being a bit presumptuous - "

"oh, williams, williams, presume away, please."

williams laughed politely. "but the name 'slomo' was not entirely unfamiliar to me."


"if i may continue in my presumptuousness, may i ask if it were familiar to you - apart from your perception of it as a joke?"

"yes, it was familiar. anyone in the little world of art has heard of mr slomo - which is not to say they necessarily believe that he exists."

williams seemed a little startled by this. "there is some disbelief as to whether mr slomo exists?" he stared at cosima.

cosima stared back, amused. "well, do you believe mr slomo exists? have you had some experience of this legendary creature yourself?"

"indeed i have, miss. i only had a few glimpses of the gentleman myself, but the late colonel had definite dealings with an individual assuming that uncommon cognomen during the now not so recent hostilities."

"i see. you know, williams, if i didn't know any better i would think you had a story to tell, and would very much enjoy telling it."

"oh, it is not so dramatic as all that, miss. but i would be happy to tell you what little i know."

"excellent. but it sounds like it might be thirsty work. there is no sense standing here while you tell your tale."

"you want a drink?"

"oh no, no, i just meant coffee. why don't we go back to the green room and get comfortable and you can tell me all about this mystery man."

"if you wish. i will get a fresh pot. do you want anything else?"

"no thank you, just the coffee. get anything you want for yourself. take your time."

williams departed back to the kitchen. cosima hesitated, then turned to the window again and looked out.

but the street was completely empty.


the cab containing fortescue and carol sped down an almost deserted sixth avenue . fortescue lit a cigarette and looked out the window. carol sat as close to him as she could without snuggling up against him.

i made my pitch to him, she thought. no sense sounding even more desperate and whiny than i already did. i will just let him think about it.

suddenly she was overwhelmingly tired. what a night! she yawned once, twice, and passed out, flopping against fortescue's shoulder.


"so," cosima began, when she and williams had settled in in the green room, "this mister slomo that you caught glimpses of, he was involved in art in some way?"

"oh, mr slomo was involved in anything that could be bought and sold."

"ah." cosima picked up the coffee pot and filled her cup.

"yes, i am afraid he belonged to - was the very embodiment of - the class of persons who regarded the recent hostilities not as an opportunity to defend the rights and safety of humanity, but to line his pockets."

"shocking. but go on."

"well, at that time and place the trick to lining your pockets was to have big pockets to line. only solid items - physically solid - were regarded as having value."

"like gold. or silver. or art."

"exactly." williams hesitated, then poured himself three quarters of a cup of coffee, careful not to spill a drop. "paper money had almost ceased to exist."

"what about american money? good old american greenback dollars? "

"it had just begun to flow in. and there were a lot of people who - did not feel in a position to wait for a new economy to stabilize itself."

"so where did mr slomo fit into this"

"mister slomo presented himself as a man who could get things done - who could provide papers, identities and so forth - for a price. and who could exchange anything for anything, taking his cut of course."

"i wouldn't think he was alone in that. surely there was a great market for such things."

"yes, but what separated him from the others was his willingness to accept payment in items of highly speculative value - almost anything except third reich paper - and his willingness to accept bulky items."

"like art works."

"exactly. of course the question then arose, where was he keeping it all? he was reputed to have a hiding place somewhere , a veritable alladin's cave or monte cristo's treasure house of untold and glittering wealth. naturally, this excited the jealousy and curiosity of those inclined to be jealous and curious."

"like the colonel."

"i wasn't thinking of the colonel. the colonel was a gentleman, doing what had to be done in sticky situations."

cosima laughed. "of course. what about you, then?"

"oh, i was just driving the colonel, keeping my mouth shut, and dreaming of returning to civilization. i was thinking of corporal gray."

"the mysterious corporal gray. i think i have heard him mentioned once or twice."

"there was nothing mysterious about him. he was a caveman, a barbarian with a primal lust for gold and riches. and not even the scruples of a barbarian. i still have nightmares about him. " williams took a sip of his coffee. " i was much more afraid of him than i was of the germans. in any case, he became very much interested in mr slomo."


"i really don't know. gray disappeared - fortunately. i always thought perhaps he had found and made off with mister slomo's treasure. but gray is gone, and mister slomo - assuming the man who called and the man you know of are all one and the same - seems to be with us."


"and what of your mister slomo? the one you referred to as a legendary creature, whose existence was a matter of speculation?"

"my mister slomo is the man who buys the mona lisa."

"the man who buys the mona lisa?"

"it's just an expression. it means the fabulously wealthy individual who can afford to buy stolen artworks and gaze lovingly at them in his private vault, because they are too well known to be shown on his walls or in galleries. you hear about such people from time to time, but of course no one ever actually meets or talks to one."

"and mister slomo is reported to be one such?"

"some times. and some times he is an agent for such people."

suddenly they heard the phone, ringing down the hall and through the partially opened door of the green room.

"who can that be, at this time of the night?"

91. "again"