St. Basil, Switzerland
June 14, 1991
The jeweled eyes of the Wind Dancer, secret, enigmatic, inhumanly patient, gazed out of the black and white photograph at Alex Karazov.
The uncanny impression that a mysterious sentience exuded from the statue had to be a trick of light the lens had captured. Alex shook his head. Impossible. But now he could understand the statue's mystique and the stories that had grown up around it. The book he held was over sixty years old and the picture probably didn't even do the statue justice. He skimmed the caption beneath the picture.
"The Wind Dancer, recognized as one of the most valuable art objects in the world. The famous 'eyes of the Wind Dancer' are two perfectly matched almond-shaped emeralds 65.50 carats each. Four hundred and forty-seven diamonds encrust the base of the winged statue of Pegasus.
"In her book Facts and Legends of the Wind Dancer, published in 1923, Lily Andreas claimed there were historical references indicating the Wind Dancer had been in the possession of Alexander the Great during his first campaign in Persia in 323 b.c.; later, it was said to have passed to Charlemagne during his reign. Andreas's book was the subject of controversy. She claimed that a host of the most influential figures throughout the ages had not only possessed the Wind Dancer but asserted that it had contributed decisively to their success or failure. Both the antiquity of the statue and its history were challenged by the London and Cairo museums at the time."
Alex impatiently closed Art Treasures of the World, pushing it aside as Pavel set a stack of five more volumes on the desk. He already knew the contents of Lily Andreas's book. He remembered Ledford quoting it chapter and verse as if it were the Bible.
Pavel raised one bushy black brow. "No luck?"
Alex shook his head. "Too early. I need facts, not legends." He reached for the top book on the stack, flipped it open to the index, ran his finger down the chapter headings until he found the one labeled "Wind Dancer," then thumbed to the correct page. "For God's sake, you'd think the damn statue had disappeared from the planet." Speed-reading through the chapter, he muttered, "At least this book gets us out of the roaring twenties. It mentions the Wind Dancer's confiscation by the Germans in 1939 and its discovery in Hitler's mountain retreat after World War Two." He slammed the book shut. "But I'm wasting time. Call the curator of the Louvre and-"
"Ask where the Wind Dancer is now," Pavel finished for him. He shook his head, an amused grin creasing his weathered, heavily jowled face. "You know, of course, they'll probably try to trace the call and notify Interpol. I imagine the management of the Louvre is a bit touchy since they 'lost' the 'Mona Lisa' yesterday."
"Maybe," Alex said, abstracted. He stood up and walked across the room to a long table on which a number of headlined newspaper articles had been cut out and arranged like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.
michelangelo's "david" disappears from florence
terrorist group black medina assassinates cardinal on way to vatican
police baffled at rembrandt's "night watch" theft from amsterdam museum
terrorist group black medina kills three in bombing at charles de gaulle airport
"mona lisa" stolen from louvre
Several other articles lay under a jade paperweight, and Alex glanced at them as he tried to decide whether he was interested enough to commit to it. If he was right, that call would cause even more furor than Pavel believed.
Oh, what the hell. Why not? He couldn't just sit there on this damn mountaintop and let his brain grow barnacles.
"Phone anyway. Give my name and say I'm doing research for a novel. I need to know where the Wind Dancer is right now. The Andreas family lives in the U.S., but I recall an article a few years ago about French public opinion on the Wind Dancer: the average French citizen considers it a national treasure. Find out more about that if you can. Oh, the Louvre curator's name is Emile Desloge."
Pavel nodded, his black eyes twinkling as he studied Alex's intent face. "I call the Louvre and you get another piece for your puzzle." He gave a mock sigh. "And when the statue is stolen, at whose door will the police come knocking?" He lightly tapped the massive bulk of his gray-sweatered chest with one hand. "Pavel Rubanski's door. You bring me nothing but trouble. If I had any sense, I'd leave you and find a job with someone who offers less pay and greater job security."
"You'd be bored as hell." Alex grinned as he sat down at the table and drew the latest article toward him. "God knows I am."
Lumbering to the door, Pavel halted and looked back at Alex in surprise. "I'm glad you're finally admitting it. Now I can do something besides feed you information for your infernal puzzles. What's the use of being a rich man if you don't spend your money? Instead of calling the Louvre, I'll phone the travel agent and arrange a nice, sunny vacation in Martinique. You always enjoyed going to Martinique at this time of year." His tone became coaxing. "Or we'll send for Angela and one of her friends to come to the chalet for a pleasant little weekend orgy. Sex is as good as a vacation anytime."
Alex's lips twitched as he looked at the hopeful expression on Pavel's face. "And you're betting one or the other of those distractions will take my mind off the Wind Dancer."
Pavel nodded. "You may be under KGB and CIA blankets of protection, but I'm not so favored where Interpol is concerned. I'm a peaceful man who wants only a little sunshine, a little sex, maybe a fine gourmet meal now and then-"
"Now and then?" Alex smiled affectionately. "You haven't stepped on the scales lately."
"That's not fat, it's muscle. I'm a big man and I need fuel. Besides, what else can I do up here in the mountains but eat? Now, on Martinique I could just lie on the beach with a pi-a colada and not have to worry about snow or ice-or Interpol asking me uncomfortable questions."
"Interpol's too busy clutching at straws and chasing after every clue in sight to bother with you." Alex thought about those recent newspaper headlines and frowned. "I wonder if that's part of it. . . ."
"Part of what?"
Alex didn't answer, his mind busily sorting out information, drawing conclusions, discarding them, moving the information to new positions, drawing other conclusions, and fitting pieces together until they formed a picture with which he could be satisfied.
"Never mind," Pavel grumbled. "I might as well live on this blasted mountain by myself. No one can talk to you when you're working on one of your puzzles. It's not as if you had to do it for a living anymore. You're a damn addict." He swung the door shut behind him.
Was Pavel right? Alex wondered. Probably. He had worked at the task too long and knew too well the heady exhilaration of finally solving a puzzle. After Afghanistan he had thought he would never delve willingly into a project again, but he hadn't counted on the habits the years had formed. Since he had come to St. Basil he had drifted back into the pattern of gathering information and projecting events for his own amusement on subjects as widely varied as the rise and fall of the New York stockmarket to which countries would host future Olympic Games.
But this new puzzle was much more intriguing than any he had ever run across, and Alex could feel the adrenaline begin to flow through his veins as excitement gripped him. He felt alive, functioning at the top of his form once more.
One hour later Pavel entered the study and tossed a legal pad on the table in front of Alex.
"Here it is. The Wind Dancer is owned presently by Jonathan Andreas."
"Where is it?"
"At the Andreas compound in Port Andreas, South Carolina. Andreas is one of the wealthiest men in America and the compound is bristling with bodyguards and security people. The house has a state-of-the-art security system."
"So did the Louvre," Alex said dryly. "It didn't prevent thieves from stealing the 'Mona Lisa.' " He looked down at the notes on the yellow legal pad. "What's this about Vasaro?"
"Vasaro, the estate, is located near Grasse in France and raises flowers for the perfume industry. The family Vasaro is distantly related to the Andreases; it was the French cousins who convinced Jonathan Andreas's father to lend the Wind Dancer to the Louvre in 1939 to earn money to ransom eleven Jewish artists held hostage by the Germans. Five years ago, while she was attending the Sorbonne, a Caitlin Vasaro did a research paper on the significance of the Wind Dancer in history that was used as the cornerstone for a doctorate study by Andre Beaujolis."
"Do the Vasaros have any claim to the Wind Dancer?"
Pavel shook his head. "But the French government challenged the Andreas family in 1876 on the grounds that Marie Antoinette's gift wasn't legal under the revolutionary assembly. They lost the suit." He paused. "You think the Wind Dancer is going to be heisted next?"
"Then may I ask why I've spent almost an entire hour on the phone with an extremely suspicious French curator?"
"Every art object stolen has been of major cultural importance to the countries of Europe. The statue of David in Italy, the 'Night Watch' in Holland, now the 'Mona Lisa' in France. The Wind Dancer would be a prime candidate for theft if it was still in Europe." Alex shrugged. "But it's not likely to be a target while it's safe on U.S. soil. Too bad."
"I'm sure Jonathan Andreas doesn't think so."
Alex chuckled, his blue eyes suddenly sparkling in his tanned face. "Why the hell are you so glum?"
"Because you're not. You're excited as hell and operating on all cylinders. You're on the trail of something. I know you, Alex."
Alex gazed at him innocently.
"Why did you have me call the Louvre when I could have found out what you wanted to know by tapping Goldbaum or one of the usual newspaper sources?"
"Interpol won't bother you, Pavel."
"But you did want me to stir something up when I made the call."
Alex nodded. "I had a hunch and wanted to leap-frog a few obstacles. Don't worry, it won't put your neck on the line."
"I'm not worrying. My neck has been on the line before." Pavel smiled. "Remember that prisoner at Diranev? I thought I'd had it for sure before you stepped in and chopped him."
"You owed me money. I had to keep you alive to collect."
"And all this time you had me convinced you'd done it because of the nobility of your soul."
"How could that be when I don't even know the meaning of the word nobility?"
"But you know the meaning of the word friendship," Pavel said softly.
Alex quickly looked down. "Lord, you're getting maudlin in your old age."
"I'm merely playing cleverly on your sympathy to gain what I want from you."
"And what do you want?"
"Martinique. I can't stand all this snow. It reminds me of Diranev. Why you decided to buy a house in Switzerland baffles me."
"It's one of the few countries left on earth that permits a man to live with a minimum of red tape."
"I can stand a little red tape if it gets me out of the ice and snow." He stared pleadingly at Alex. "Martinique?"
Pavel looked like a wistful puppy gazing at a bone just out of reach, Alex thought with affection. "Okay. Martinique. After I finish with-"
"Dammit, the next ice age will be here by the time you get to the end of this one." Pavel turned away and strode toward the door. "I should have sent for Angela without asking you. You're much more open to suggestion when you're operating on a physical and not a cerebral level."
"I'm expecting a call. Put it through right away, will you?"
Pavel's eyes widened in astonishment. "Christ," he whispered.
"Hardly." Alex's lips twisted sardonically. "Our friend Ledford is much closer to Lucifer."
"You think he's responsible for all this?" Pavel nodded at the news clippings.
"Some of it bears his stamp. Ledford's always displayed a certain flamboyance and he headed several of the Agency's operations involving art objects before they assigned him to me."
"I'd forgotten that." Pavel frowned, trying to remember the details. "He stole back that Del Sarto used to ransom a Portuguese diplomat in Brazil, didn't he?"
"Among many others."
"It's a CIA operation?"
"At first I thought so. Not now."
Alex shrugged. "Perhaps we'll find out when Ledford phones."
Pavel's eyes narrowed. "That's why you had me call the Louvre. You didn't really think the Wind Dancer was the next target. You were issuing an invitation."
"More in the nature of a summons." Alex grinned. "Ledford always has had a passion for the Wind Dancer. He used to rave about it. He'll understand what my inquiry about the statue means."
"You believe the curator is collaborating with Ledford?"
"He's probably in contact with Ledford or whoever stole the 'Mona Lisa.' Security was too tight at the Louvre for anyone but the curator to be able to bypass it."
"It would have to be extravagant bribery. I'd say in the multimillions."
"That doesn't make any sense. Why pay millions to steal a painting that can't be fenced? Even a closet collector wouldn't risk buying a painting as famous as the 'Mona Lisa.' "
"An interesting question." Alex leaned back in his chair. "We'll have to find out, won't we?"
"Ledford won't discuss this over the phone. He'll come here."
"It's a mistake, Alex. If it is Ledford, you shouldn't have let him know you're on to him."
"He'll be no problem. I've dealt with him before."
"But you were on the same side."
"He's a bastard but not capable of any major mischief."
"He could have changed." Pavel grimaced. "He was different with you, and I believe you're underestimating him." He left the study.
Alex stared down at the yellow pad, doodling absently with a pen, drawing circles around the word Vasaro, underlining Wind Dancer, scrawling four question marks after the name Jonathan Andreas. Maybe Pavel was right and Alex was taking a risk. When he had spotted the possibility that Ledford was involved in the puzzle, his interest had escalated. His past dealings with the man had left a sour taste in his mouth, and he had looked forward to pulling this particular devil's tail. But perhaps this god-awful boredom was clouding his judgment and leading him to take chances he wouldn't ordinarily take.