Gabriel allon 01 kill.., p.1
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       Gabriel Allon 01 - Kill Artist, p.1

           Daniel Silva
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Gabriel Allon 01 - Kill Artist


  The Kill Artist

  Daniel Silva

  Author’s Note

  The Kill Artist is a work of fiction and should be construed as nothing but. All characters, locales, and incidents portrayed in the novel are products of the author’s imagination or have been used fictitiously. Any resemblance to any person, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. However, in order to add verisimilitude to the story and the characters, I have drawn from real episodes in the secret war between Israeli intelligence and the Palestinian guerrillas. For example, the 1988 assassination of PLO commando leader Abu Jihad happened much as it is portrayed, with minor modifications. Francesco Vecellio is a real Italian old master painter—indeed, he was the lesser-known brother of Titian—but The Adoration of the Shepherds portrayed in the novel is fictitious. Sadly, the London art gallery portrayed in The Kill Artist does not exist and neither does its owner.

  PROLOGUE

  Vienna: January 1991

  The restorer raised his magnifying visor and switched off the bank of fluorescent lights. He waited for his eyes to adjust to the murkiness of evening in the cathedral; then he inspected a tiny portion of the painting just below an arrow wound on the leg of Saint Stephen. Over the centuries the paint had worn completely down to the canvas. The restorer had so carefully repaired the damage that without the use of specialized equipment it was now quite impossible to tell his work from the original, which meant he had done his job very well indeed.

  The restorer crouched on the work platform, wiped his brushes and palette, and packed away his paints into a flat rectangular case of polished wood. Nightfall had blackened the soaring stained-glass windows of the cathedral; a blanket of new snow had muffled the usual hum of the Vienna evening rush. So quiet was the Stephansdom that the restorer would scarcely have been surprised to see a medieval sexton scurrying across the nave by torchlight.

  He climbed off the high scaffolding with the agility of a house cat and dropped silently onto the stone floor of the chapel. A knot of tourists had been watching him work for several minutes. As a rule the restorer did not like spectators—indeed, some days he shrouded the platform in a gray tarpaulin. Tonight’s crowd dispersed as he pulled on a reefer coat and woolen watch cap. Softly, he bid them buona sera, instinctively recording each face in his mind, as permanently as if they were rendered with oil on canvas.

  An attractive German girl tried to engage him in conversation. She spoke to him in poor Italian. In rapid, Berlin-accented German—his mother had lived in Charlottenburg before the war—the restorer said he was late for an appointment and could not talk now. German girls made him uneasy. Reflexively his eyes wandered over her—across her large, rounded breasts, up and down her long legs. She mistook his attention for flirting, tilted her head, smiled at him through a lock of flaxen hair, suggested a coffee in the café across the square. The restorer apologized and said he had to leave. “Besides,” he said, looking up at the soaring nave, “this is Stephansdom, Fraülein. Not a pickup bar.”

  A moment later he passed through the entrance of the cathedral and struck out across the Stephansplatz. He was of medium height, well below six feet. His black hair was shot with gray at the temples. His nose was rather long and angular, with sharp edges across the bridge that left the suggestion it had been carved from wood. Full lips, cleft chin, cheekbones broad and square. There was a hint of the Russian steppes in his eyes—almond shaped, unnaturally green, very quick. His vision was perfect, despite the demanding nature of his work. He had a confident walk, not an arrogant swagger or a march but a crisp, purposeful stride that seemed to propel him effortlessly across the snowbound square. The box containing his paints and brushes was under his left arm, resting on the metal object that he wore, habitually, on his left hip.

  He walked along the Rotenturmstrasse, a broad pedestrian mall lined with bright shops and cafés, pausing before shop windows, peering at sparkling Mont Blanc pens and Rolex watches, even though he had no need for such things. He stopped at a snow-covered sausage stand, purchased a käsewurst, dropped it into a rubbish bin a hundred yards away without taking a bite. He entered a telephone booth, slipped a schilling into the coin slot, punched a random series of numbers on the keypad, all the while scanning the street and storefronts around him. A recorded voice informed him that he had made a dreadful mistake. The restorer replaced the receiver, collected his schilling from the coin tray, kept walking.

  His destination was a small Italian restaurant in the Jewish Quarter. Before the Nazis there had been nearly two hundred thousand Jews living in Vienna, and Jews had dominated the city’s cultural and commercial life. Now there were just a few thousand, mainly from the East, and the so-called Jewish Quarter was a strip of clothing stores, restaurants, and nightclubs clustered around the Judenplatz. Among Viennese the district was known as the Bermuda Triangle, which the restorer found vaguely offensive.

  The restorer’s wife and son were waiting for him—rear table, facing the door, just as he had taught her. The boy sat next to his mother, sucking strands of buttered spaghetti through rose-colored lips. He watched her for a moment, appraising her beauty the way he might assess a work of art: the technique, the structure, the composition. She had pale olive-toned skin, oval brown eyes, and long black hair, which was drawn back and lying across the front of one shoulder.

  He entered the restaurant. He kissed his son on the top of the head, chatted in Italian with the man behind the bar, sat down. His wife poured wine for him.

  “Not too much. I have to work tonight.”

  “The cathedral?”

  He pulled down his lips, cocked his head slightly. “Are you packed?” he asked.

  She nodded, then looked at the television above the bar. Air-raid sirens over Tel Aviv, another Iraqi Scud missile streaking toward Israel. The citizens of Tel Aviv putting on gas masks and taking shelter. The shot changed: a tongue of fire, falling from the black sky toward the city. The restorer’s wife reached across the table and touched his hand.

  “I want to go home.”

  “Soon,” the restorer said and poured himself more wine.

  She had left the car on the street just outside the restaurant, a dark blue Mercedes sedan, Vienna registration, leased by a small chemical company in Bern. He placed the boy in the backseat, buckled his safety belt, kissed his wife.

  “If I’m not there by six o’clock, something has gone wrong. You remember what to do?”

  “Go to the airport, give them the password and the clearance number, and they’ll take care of us.”

  “Six o’clock,” he repeated. “If I don’t walk through the door by six o’clock, go straight to the airport. Leave the car in the parking lot and throw away the keys. Do you understand me?”

  She nodded. “Just be home by six.”

  The restorer closed the door, gave a terse wave through the glass, and started to walk away. In front of him, floating over the rooftops of the old city, was the spire of the cathedral, ablaze with light. One more night, he thought. Then home for a few weeks until the next job.

  Behind him he heard the starter of the Mercedes engage, then hesitate, like a record album being played at the wrong speed. The restorer stopped walking and spun around.

  “No!” he screamed, but she turned the key again.

  PART I

  Acquisition

  ONE

  Port Navas, Cornwall: The Present

  By coincidence Timothy Peel arrived in the village the same week in July as the stranger. He and his mother moved into a ramshackle cottage at the head of the tidal creek with her latest lover, a struggling playwright named Derek, who drank too much wine and detested children. The stranger arrived two days later, settling int
o the old foreman’s cottage just up the creek from the oyster farm.

  Peel had little to do that summer—when Derek and his mother weren’t making clamorous love, they were taking inspirational forced marches along the cliffs—so he determined to find out exactly who the stranger was and what he was doing in Cornwall. Peel decided the best way to begin was to watch. Because he was eleven, and the only child of divorced parents, Peel was well schooled in the art of human observation and investigation. Like any good surveillance artist, he required a fixed post. He settled on his bedroom window, which had an unobstructed view over the creek. In the storage shed he found a pair of ancient Zeiss binoculars, and at the village store he purchased a small notebook and ballpoint pen for recording his watch report.

  The first thing Peel noticed was that the stranger liked old objects. His car was a vintage MG roadster. Peel would watch from his window as the man hunched over the motor for hours at a time, his back poking from beneath the bonnet. A man of great concentration, Peel concluded. A man of great mental endurance.

  After a month the stranger vanished. A few days passed, then a week, then a fortnight. Peel feared the stranger had spotted him and taken flight. Bored senseless without the routine of watching, Peel got into trouble. He was caught hurling a rock though the window of a tea shop in the village. Derek sentenced him to a week of solitary confinement in his bedroom.

  But that evening Peel managed to slip out with his binoculars. He walked along the quay, past the stranger’s darkened cottage and the oyster farm, and stood at the point where the creek fed into the Helford River, watching the sailboats coming in with the tide. He spotted a ketch heading in under power. He raised the binoculars to his eyes and studied the figure standing at the wheel.

  The stranger had come back to Port Navas.

  The ketch was old and badly in need of restoration, and the stranger cared for it with the same devotion he had shown his fickle MG. He toiled for several hours each day: sanding, varnishing, painting, polishing brass, changing lines and canvas. When the weather was warm he would strip to the waist. Peel couldn’t help but compare the stranger’s body with Derek’s. Derek was soft and flabby; the stranger was compact and very hard, the kind of man you would quickly regret picking a fight with. By the end of August his skin had turned nearly as dark as the varnish he was so meticulously applying to the deck of the ketch.

  He would disappear aboard the boat for days at a time. Peel had no way to follow him. He could only imagine where the stranger was going. Down the Helford to the sea? Around the Lizard to St. Michael’s Mount or Penzance? Maybe around the cape to St. Ives.

  Then Peel hit upon another possibility. Cornwall was famous for its pirates; indeed, the region still had its fair share of smugglers. Perhaps the stranger was running the ketch out to sea to meet cargo vessels and ferry contraband to shore.

  The next time the stranger returned from one of his voyages, Peel stood a strict watch in his window, hoping to catch him in the act of removing contraband from the boat. But as he leaped from the prow of the ketch onto the quay, he had nothing in his hands but a canvas rucksack and plastic rubbish bag.

  The stranger sailed for pleasure, not profit.

  Peel took out his notebook and drew a line through the word smuggler.

  The large parcel arrived the first week of September, a flat wooden crate, nearly as big as a barn door. It came in a van from London, accompanied by an agitated man in pinstripes. The stranger’s days immediately assumed a reverse rhythm. At night the top floor of the cottage burned with light—not normal light, Peel observed, but a very clear white light. In the mornings, when Peel left home for school, he would see the stranger heading down the creek in the ketch, or working on his MG, or setting off in a pair of battered hiking boots to pound the footpaths of the Helford Passage. Peel supposed he slept afternoons, though he seemed like a man who could go a long time without rest.

  Peel wondered what the stranger was doing all night. Late one evening he decided to have a closer look. He pulled on a sweater and coat and slipped out of the cottage without telling his mother. He stood on the quay, looking up at the stranger’s cottage. The windows were open; a sharp odor hung on the air, something between rubbing alcohol and petrol. He could also hear music of some sort—singing, opera perhaps.

  He was about to move closer to the house when he felt a heavy hand on his shoulder. He spun around and saw Derek standing over him, hands on his hips, eyes wide with anger. “What in the bloody hell are you doing out here?” Derek said. “Your mother was worried sick!”

  “If she was so worried, why did she send you?”

  “Answer my question, boy! Why are you standing out here?”

  “None of your business!”

  In the darkness Peel did not see the blow coming: open-handed, against the side of his head, hard enough to make his ear ring and bring water instantly to his eyes.

  “You’re not my father! You’ve no right!”

  “And you’re not my son, but as long as you live in my house you’ll do as I say.”

  Peel tried to run, but Derek grabbed him roughly by the collar of his coat and lifted him off the ground.

  “Let go!”

  “One way or another you’re coming home.”

  Derek took a few steps, then froze. Peel twisted his head around to see what was the matter. It was then that he saw the stranger, standing in the center of the lane, arms crossed in front of his chest, head cocked slightly to one side.

  “What do you want?” snapped Derek.

  “I heard noises. I thought there might be a problem.”

  Peel realized this was the first time he had ever heard the stranger speak. His English was perfect, but there was a trace of an accent to it. His diction was like his body: hard, compact, concise, no fat.

  “No problem,” Derek said. “Just a boy who’s someplace he shouldn’t be.”

  “Maybe you should treat him like a boy and not a dog.”

  “And maybe you should mind your own fucking business.”

  Derek released Peel and stared hard at the smaller man. For a moment Peel feared Derek was going to try to hit the stranger. He remembered the man’s taut, hard muscles, the impression that he was a man who knew how to fight. Derek seemed to sense it too, for he simply took Peel by the elbow and led him back toward the cottage. Along the way Peel glanced over his shoulder and caught sight of the stranger still standing in the lane, arms crossed like a silent sentinel. But by the time Peel returned to his room and peered out his window, the stranger was gone. Only the light remained, clean and searing white.

  By the late autumn Peel was frustrated. He had not learned even the most basic facts about the stranger. He still had no name—oh, he had heard a couple of possible names whispered around the village, both vaguely Latin—nor had he discovered the nature of his nocturnal work. He decided a crash operation was in order.

  The following morning, when the stranger climbed into his MG and sped toward the center of the village, Peel hurried along the quay and slipped into the cottage through an open garden window.

  The first thing he noticed was that the stranger was using the drawing room as a bedroom.

  He quickly climbed the stairs. A chill ran over him.

  Most of the walls had been knocked down to create a spacious open room. In the center was a large white table. Mounted on the side was a microscope with a long retractable arm. On another table were clear flasks of chemicals, which Peel reckoned were the source of the strange odor, and two strange visors with powerful magnifying glasses built into them. Atop a tall, adjustable stand was a bank of fluorescent lights, the source of the cottage’s peculiar glow.

  There were other instruments Peel could not identify, but these things were not the source of his alarm. Mounted on a pair of heavy wooden easels were two paintings. One was large, very old looking, a religious scene of some sort. Parts had flaked away. On the second easel was a painting of an old man, a young woman, and a child.
Peel examined the signature in the bottom right-hand corner: Rembrandt.

  He turned to leave and found himself face-to-face with the stranger.

  “What are you doing?”

  “I’m‘s-s-sorry,” Peel stammered. “I thought you were here.”

  “No you didn’t. You knew I was away, because you were watching me from your bedroom window when I left. In fact, you’ve been watching me since the summer.”

  “I thought you might be a smuggler.”

  “Whatever gave you that idea?”

  “The boat,” Peel lied.

  The stranger smiled briefly. “Now you know the truth.”

  “Not really,” said Peel.

  “I’m an art restorer. Paintings are old objects. Sometimes they need a little fixing up, like a cottage, for example.”

  “Or a boat,” said Peel.

  “Exactly. Some paintings, like these, are very valuable.”

  “More than a sailboat?”

  “Much more. But now that you know what’s in here, we have a problem.”

  “I won’t tell anyone,” Peel pleaded. “Honest.”

  The stranger ran a hand over his short, brittle hair. “I could use a helper,” he said softly. “Someone to keep an eye on the place while I’m away. Would you like a job like that?”

  “Yes.”

  “I’m going sailing. Would you like to join me?”

  “Yes.”

  “Do you need to ask your parents?”

  “He’s not my father, and my mum won’t care.”

  “You sure about that?”

  “Positive.”

  “What’s your name?”

  “I’m Peel. What’s yours?”

  But the stranger just looked around the room to make certain Peel hadn’t disturbed any of his things.

  TWO

  Paris

  The stranger’s restless Cornish quarantine might have gone undisturbed if Emily Parker had not met a man called René at a drunken dinner party, which was thrown by a Jordanian student named Leila Khalifa on a wet night in late October. Like the stranger, Emily Parker was living in self-imposed exile: she had moved to Paris after graduation in the hope that it would help mend a broken heart. She possessed none of his physical attributes. Her gait was loose-limbed and chaotic. Her legs were too long, her hips too wide, her breasts too heavy, so that when she moved, each part of her anatomy seemed in conflict with the rest. Her wardrobe varied little: faded jeans, fashionably ripped at the knees, a quilted jacket that made her look rather like a large throw pillow. And then there was the face—the face of a Polish peasant, her mother had always said: rounded cheeks, a thick mouth, a heavy jaw, dull brown eyes set too closely together. “I’m afraid you have your father’s face,” her mother had said. “Your father’s face and your father’s fragile heart.”

 
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