The knock on the door was almost imperceptible. Nico answered it with confidence, because no one with any authority would announce themselves with such timidity. As an afterthought, he regretted not checking the peephole first. Intuition was a gift, but caution was not an option in his business. But the self-ridicule was dismissed as soon as he swung open the door and beheld his guest. Roland’s appearance confirmed Nico’s anticipation.
Almost immediately, Roland seemed to withdraw from Nico’s greeting. Nico paused a moment out of concern that Roland had misinterpreted something and was going to duck from an imagined assault. Roland bobbed to the left, causing a mop of sandy blond hair to shake from the crooked part that creased the right side of his head. Roland then peered sideways through oversized glasses and awkwardly composed himself. He noticeably swallowed hard and touched his right hand to the earpiece on the same side to straighten the thick tortoiseshell frames.
Roland’s dress was consistent with his demeanor. Brown corduroy jacket over a plaid shirt and loose brown knit tie. The trousers were an attempt to match the jacket without real success and the scuffed shoes were once proud brown oxfords. The ensemble screamed preoccupied academia. Nico welcomed him with a smile, more from amusement than hospitality, and beckoned him through the threshold. Roland sheepishly stepped through the door and glanced around the well-adorned hotel room until he spotted Michele seated with ladylike elegance on the Victorian sofa. The furnishings were gaudy, but considered elegant by local French standards.
Nico followed his gaze and his smile deepened. Michele was attractive enough to catch notice even in sackcloth, but she was radiant in a cream-colored cotton dress that showed off her tanned shoulders and legs with perfect contrast. A simple string of white pearls surrounded a neckline that would have put any starlet to shame. Thick auburn shoulder-length hair swept over her right shoulder as she turned her head and gazed at Roland with soft green eyes. Roland seemed to physically melt and his rosy-cheeked complexion brightened under her warmth.
Nico interrupted Roland’s revere with a gentle nudge toward an empty leather chair and invited him to sit. Once again, Roland found the need to forcibly compose himself with another check of his glass frames, which Nico now suspected was a nervous habit of the middle aged, overweight, and disheveled man who had become the center of uncomfortable attention upon his arrival.
Michele put her right hand to her mouth to stifle a giggle. It wasn’t Roland’s presence that she found amusing, but the fact that he was the polar opposite of Nico, who closed the door behind them. Nico was tall with a thin, but athletic, build reminiscent of a long distance runner. He was well groomed with short styled hair, a trim mustache and a slight goatee. He wore a gray cashmere sweater and dark woolen slacks with masculine ease and gracefully stepped around Roland as the later almost stumbled into the offered chair.
Roland sat anxiously and fidgeted as if he had a bad case of hemorrhoids. Nico offered him a drink, hoping that would sooth him in a few moments. They had business to discuss, serious business that demanded Roland’s full attention. Roland accepted a glass of red wine with a passive toast offered by Nico sporting a raised scotch surrounded by crystal. Michele joined in with a sip of Chablis. Nico then sat on the sofa within arms reach of Michele and positioned himself opposite of Roland. He leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees.
“Thank you for accepting my invitation, Roland.” Although they had only met the night before in the hotel bar, Nico’s use of his first name seemed appropriate. After all, after a few drinks, they had shared many personal observations and opinions about several subjects, including politics and religion. Although Roland personified the stereotypical professor type and remained mostly mute while sober, he was downright glib with an elevated blood/alcohol level. Nico needed the sober persona and would have to be on guard for the loose lips that libation could conger up. That would definitely be bad for business.
But, the experience had been enlightening and he now knew, among other things, that Roland was a disenfranchised liberal democrat who had thrown off the restrictions of a Catholic childhood for the hubris of secular society. Nico also confirmed Roland’s love of antiques and willingness to skirt certain legal restrictions if the money was right. As a result, Roland was familiar with several unscrupulous dealers who catered to equally unscrupulous clients of high society. That could be good for business. Very, very good. And that’s what prompted this rather unwieldy meeting.
Roland now shifted, yet again, in his chair and prodded the conversation in an effort to get to the point. “You said you had something for me to see.”
“Yes, I did. But, let’s not be rude. Roland, let me introduce a friend. This is Michele.”
They exchanged silent nods and, if it was possible, Roland seemed even more uncomfortable. “You said a friend. Forgive me, but considering the reason for my being here, is your relationship more business oriented or personal?”
“What say you, my dear?” Nico addressed the question to Michele who blushed and said, “Business…for now.” Nico smiled, agreeing with the first estimate, but thinking the implication of the later comment could be trouble. Something else to watch. Roland acted satisfied, but Nico thought the behavior was a front for nervousness and inexperience. Roland may have had the right connections to move ill-gotten property, but he was no fence. No one truly concerned with Michele’s presence would have been pacified so quickly. Was this toad under a spell? Maybe it was Michele’s perfume that tipped the scale in his adolescent-like brain.
“Fine, I suppose,” mumbled Roland. “But, I don’t like this. I usually do business with people I know better than I know you two. “ He paused and waited for a reply. Nico and Michele just starred. “ Alright, well, I’m here so let’s get on with it. What do you have to show me?”
Nico wasn’t totally convinced and had his reservations, as well. But, he had been referred to Roland by a trusted source who was a friend of his family, his father’s former business partner. So, he set aside his doubts, because he didn’t want to hold the item any longer than was necessary. Besides, if this business venture went poorly, Nico could call on another family friend to terminate the deal…and this wannabe. “You understand, Roland, that this is preliminary. If either of us wants out, it is perfectly alright to say so and there will be no hard feelings.”
“Yes, yes. We’re wasting time.” Impatient? Or, just nerves.
Michele chided, “Am I losing my allure already, Mr. Roland?”
“No, ah, no. That’s, ah, that’s irrelevant.” Roland chaffed under Michele’s gaze causing her great delight at the easy manipulation, but Nico was bored with the bush-league antics. It was time to get on with it. He went to a drawer in a sideboard against a far wall and withdrew a black velvet box. He walked back across the Persian rug to the sofa and sat, holding the box in his lap. Roland looked at it expectantly, but Nico didn’t move. He took a moment to size Roland up one last time. He shrugged and consigned himself to fate…not his. Roland’s. He was that confident in his father’s other friend.
Nico leaned forward and snapped open the box that swung back open on a hinge. Roland and Michele bent with their heads almost touching to peer at the contents. Inside was an ornately jeweled set of Rosary beads and a diamond-encrusted lady’s watch. The watch was remarkable, but the beads were breathtaking. The crucifix and chain links appeared to be silver, but were embedded with precious stones of some kind. On closer examination, the beads themselves looked to be high quality stones. The decorations on the arms of the crucifix were intricate and the corpus was extremely detailed, so lifelike that the miniature Christ seemed to stare back at the admirer. The appearance was so startling that Roland jerked back and away from it.
Nico laughed. “Stop acting like a child. You ex-Catholics often end up being the most devout. I’ve heard your atheistic banter. But, you see a crucifix and cringe like Satan himself. I need you to ignore its religious value and look at it with the eyes of a lecherous dealer.”
Roland tentatively reached for the box and then hesitated. “May I?” Nico gently handed it over to Roland who acted as though he was accepting a bomb for dismantling.
“What’s with the diamond watch?” asked Roland.
“Oh, my god. Pay attention will you? While in transit, people see a museum piece and start asking questions. They see it paired with an old watch and they figure grandma came visiting and passed away, leaving me with the family jewels. Now, stop playing games and focus!”
“OK, what is it?” This time it was Michele being curious.
“This piece belonged to some French duke named John of Valois, who died in 1416. He stole it from the descendants of Cardinal Richeliu, some pompous ass who chose to commission extravagance rather than feed the flock. Up until four months ago, it resided in the Museo del Prado in Madrid. Now it rests in my hands…or yours for the moment.”
“And you got it, how?”
“Be serious, please. I can tolerate momentary retardation while you recover from initial shock, but it doesn’t wear well. The method of acquisition is of no consequence. I have it and would like someone else to take possession…for the right price.”
“And it’s worth?” Michele inquired.
“Well, my friend here will make a better estimate, but I understand it is valued at over 14 million dollars. That’s what the Spanish pamphlets said when it was on display.”
“Dollars?” Roland asked with raised eyebrows.
“I say ‘14 million’ and you zero in on the type of currency? Dollars, euros, pounds…seriously, does it matter?”
It was Roland’s turn to laugh. “It does matter when you’re working out the details with a potential buyer.” He paused and shifted his gaze between Nico and the opulent artifact. “Acquired from Spain, clandestinely…obvious…by a man in European clothes with an American accent and a pretty associate. Who are you?”
Michele, enjoying the compliment, looked to Nico for a response. Nico looked at them both, smiled and said, “I didn’t say I acquired it from Spain, or anywhere else, and I think we’re familiar enough for the purpose of doing business in such a manner. Now, what do you say, Roland. Interested?”
“I’m not sure. I’ll have to do some research and the piece will have to be submitted for detailed examination by an expert. Don’t worry. I know people who can be trusted with confidential matters.”
“If 14 million dollars isn’t enough to generate an abundance of caution and concern, I don’t know what is. I will not look favorably on letting this trinket out of my possession without extraordinary measures in place.”
Roland scoffed, “You said dollars, remember. I wouldn’t expect you to let me borrow it for an appraisal, for God’s sake. We’ll accommodate you and your cautious concerns, Mr. Nico. Give me a couple of days and I’ll get back to you. Mind you, I usually take a 10% commission, but we may need to renegotiate that to cover added costs of handling such delicate merchandise. Are you open to that?”
Nico appreciated the risk involved. “We’ll see. No point in getting ahead of ourselves.” He handed Roland a piece of paper about the size of a business card with a phone number written on it. Roland looked at it and recognized it as a South American number, because it was similar to others he used occasionally to contact clients in that part of the world. “Use this to contact me. Just leave a message with a safe contact number…preferably not your home or office number. I’ll get back to you. And, please try to keep your greed in check. You’re not the only one with expenses.”
“Quite.” And with that, Roland walked to the door. He asked over his shoulder, “What about the watch?”
Michele answered for Nico. “Already promised.” Nico looked at her with surprise. “What?” she said. “I called dibs!” Nico laughed, but wasn’t sure he would receive adequate compensation for such a gift. “Business,” he said. “Remember?”
Excerpted from "For Sake of the Son" by Michael P. Kelly. Copyright © 0 by Michael P. Kelly. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.