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Posted by : Robert Child Friday

*This is the second excerpt from my forthcoming fiction novel, The Russian van Gogh. The book is almost complete at this writing and I will be posting additional excerpts.


Riley, in front of her computer with Murphy stretched out at her feet scans the Expedia search result for flights to Corsica. “Ok, Logan to Ajaccio, France, $1486, $1535, for coach?” Hopefully I can get the Corsican authorities to pay for the trip.
Jarred by her phone, “Nobody calls me on my landline, must be a sales call Murph.” The dog continues to snooze.
The phone continues to ring and finally mercifully stops. “Gave up suckers?” she smiles.
From her bag on the kitchen counter the muffled electronic RINGTONE of her cell phone begins. Her brow narrows. She looks over to the landline then back to her bag.
She gets up and moves to the kitchen, finds her buried cell phone and presses it to her ear.
The familiar voice on the other end speaks haltingly.
“Professor Spenser, ah, this is Dan Clarke.”
“I apologize Professor for the lateness of the call but I have an pressing matter to discuss and the foundation urgently needs your assistance.”
“Of course what is it?”
“Not over the phone.”
Riley’s interest now was peaked, “alright. I have a break tomorrow between lectur-”
Dan cuts her off, insistent, “tonight. I need to speak with you tonight, Riley.”
She pauses.
“I’m sorry, Riley, but this involves something dear to you.” Clarke implores.
Riley reflects, she had never heard the chairman of the Harvard Group of Monument Men Foundation so upset, almost unglued. The Harvard Group as part of the Monument Men Foundation was formed in 1940 after the fall of Paris to provide expertise on captured WWII cultural artifacts. They also assisted, to this day, in tracking and recovery of stolen artwork from WWII. Riley had participated in a couple of their forensic investigations but they had never reached out to her so directly before.
“Certainly, Dan, I’m at 232 Marlborough in a brownstone. Call me back if you get lost.”
“Yes, I’ll see you in fifteen minutes.”
Hanging up the phone Riley could not imagine what could be so important that Dan wanted to meet tonight. And what did he mean by something dear to me?

Chapter   3

Riley had known Dan Clarke more than five years after meeting him at a faculty luncheon and discovering that they shared similar artistic passions. He had round silver glasses, white hair and kind eyes. He was the type Riley knew that if he were 30 years younger she’d fall madly in love with him.
Arriving at the door in a tan jacket and bow tie Clarke is the epitome of the fatherly academic - kind to a fault but unrelenting in his mission to recover looted art.
“Dan, it’s been too long,” as Riley squeezes him with a daughterly hug.
“Agreed, and I wish our meeting tonight were under more agreeable circumstances.”
Riley nods, still wondering what on earth he could mean as she leads him into her living room.
“No thank you dear, water would be fine.”
Grabbing some chilled water from the fridge, Riley notices that Dan is drawn to her van Gogh prints.
“Thank you,” Clarke responds as Riley hands him the glass.
Finishing a sip he says, “I am sorry about my insistence on seeing you tonight but something extraordinary has occurred.”
“What is it Dan?”
“Stolen Second World War art has surfaced in Russia.”
Riley looks at him oddly. Everyone in the art community knew the Red Army had virtually emptied Berlin of anything of value, although it was not widely known to the general public. Dedicated Red Army “Trophy Brigades” carried millions of pieces of art back to the USSR as reparation for German atrocities. Most of it was still hidden in warehouses in Russia and Poland.
“Dan, you know this is not news. The Russians carried off billions of dollars worth of art.”
“Yes, of course I know, Riley” but that looted art now includes masterpieces which the global art community thought destroyed in allied bombing raids and fires.”
Riley nods to have him continue.
“We have received word from our underground contacts in Europe that some significant pieces were taken last week in a raid by Russian terrorists in Nizhny Novgorod. Information is somewhat sketchy but my sources confirmed with almost one hundred percent certainly that one of the pieces was a priceless van Gogh thought lost in a fire in 1945.”
Riley gasps, raises a hand to her mouth, “oh my God.”
She turns and races over to a large pictorial book on a shelf.
Pulling it out she slams it down on a coffee table and rifles through the pages.
“I’ll save you the trouble,” Dan says softly, “It was The Painter On The Road To Tarascon.”
Tears begin in Riley’s eyes, “Oh my God,” as she turns back to the art book and finds the van Gogh self-portrait.
Softly Riley repeats van Gogh’s own words, “portraits allowed him to feel the infinite more than anything else.”

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