Jade Weekes grabbed a backpack and shoved a change of clothes and a toothbrush inside. When she emerged at the end of the dock, she found him sitting on the hood of a black SUV eating a hotdog.
She cocked her head, resisting the comment she wanted to make. Instead, she said, “If I help you, I want the painting.”
John Young wiped his mouth with a wadded paper napkin. “If your help doesn’t break any laws, it’s yours.”
“Not all of my skills are illegal. Besides, my contacts won’t trust you, and I won’t risk losing them.” She opened the vehicle door and tossed the backpack onto the floor.
“First steps?” he asked, throwing a mustard-streaked wrapper into the trash. He opened his door and slid in.
She nodded. “When I inherited my father’s gallery and apartment, I found boxes of photos and old papers. If there’s a trace to the painting’s whereabouts, it would be there.”
“How long has it been?” asked John.
“A year – almost. I went once after coming back to the States. There’s no trace that his murder ever happened. That’s the one memory that is the most resistant to coming back.”
“Does Alex know you’re coming?” he asked.
“He’s in London, working,” she replied.
John’s eyebrows lifted. “So, you’re still an item?”
Jade shook her head, “We’re not an item; we never were. We play chess sometimes.”
“Is that a euphemism?”
She shrugged. “I think your job, for now, is to drive.”
Young punched buttons until the air conditioner pumped enough cold air to push out the hot, marina-scented haze. Globes of sweat swelled and rolled beside his ear.
“We could be there in three hours by plane,” he said.
“The NSA flagged me,” Jade replied. “So, every time I fly, it takes three times longer to pass through security, same for rental cars. If you want my help, you’re in charge of transportation.”
Jade slipped a faded photo from its envelope and studied the image of a woman and her surroundings. It was from a packet delivered last night with a note from John.
“You’re sure this is my great-grandmother?”
“That’s what Andre says, and the background check I ran on you does include Anna Blume.”
Andre Agee, the man who pulled her from the oil-glazed waters of the Seine five years earlier, had given her a home while she wrestled with the amnesia that stole most of her identity. He’d put her intuitive knowledge of art authentication and museum security to use, teaching her to be silent and invisible while procuring priceless artwork for select buyers.
“So, you don’t remember your father Jacob mentioning his family or what happened to her?” Asked John.
“If he did, it’s buried with half my life in river sludge.”
“Is that why you’re still going by Jade Weekes instead of your real name”
“I have no idea who Jane Werner is or Anna for that matter,” she added as she tilted the picture to the side. “The Paul Klee behind her – is there a record of it? With your bureau access, you shouldn’t need my help.”
Young shifted in his seat and adjusted the vent. “I retired.”
“Retired? From the FBI? Is that even possible? Don’t you need special permission or NDAs to do that?”
“Non-disclosure agreements, really? The bureau has policies, but you can leave just like any other job.”
Jade studied him, taking in the softer lines around his eyes, faded t-shirt, and cargo shorts. She assumed he was trying to blend in with the marina crowd where her current home, a forty-two-foot schooner, was moored. John spent five years as her shadow, watching her slip art to Andre to sell. Because of him, her ability to move around was complicated, and the United States government and several European countries watched her every move.
Gazing at him now, she saw little left of the blood and mud-splattered John Young who guided her through the Paris underground a year ago.
“How long have you been out?”
“You make it sound like a prison term.” He glanced from the road to Jade. “I left a few months ago. I’m getting used to waking up knowing someone isn’t trying to kill me.”
“I’m flattered you trust me.”
“Enough to drop the letters and photo to you. Plus, if I know where you are and what you’re doing, we’re all a bit safer.”
“How did you end up with these, and another thing, how did you know when I’d take off once I read them?” She tucked the photo away and unfolded one of the letters that shared the envelope. The flowing cursive, the way handwriting was in the days before computers and texting, flowed like scrollwork over the page.
“The painting,” he said. “Even if you don’t give a damn about your past or possible relatives, you’d want to know how Anna got a Paul Klee and where it is now. Find the painting, and I think we’ll find out what happened to your grandmother.”
“Whatever happened, happened over seventy years ago. If your connections can’t find a trail, what makes you think I can?”
“Your connections are like a special breed of archivists, and they’re more likely to talk to someone they know.”
Jade tucked her hair behind an ear out of reach from the jet-blasting air vent.
“Is Andre involved?” She asked.
After a beat, he answered. “Andre gave me the picture.” The steering wheel slipped through John’s fingers as he turned onto the main highway. He stole a quick sideways glance. “What do you know about the Nazi obsession with art?”
“Hitler decided he was the leading authority on what should be classified as art — and all of the emerging expressionist work didn’t fit his mold. The Nazis obliterated the works of hundreds of artistic geniuses. And, he plundered the old masters.”
John nodded. “One of the letters is from Anna. She had the Paul Klee with her when she boarded a train for France. The other letter is from Francis Dumont, who expected Anna, but she never showed up.”
“Francis’ handwriting looks like a woman’s but could just as easily have been a man’s name at the time. The date is smudged.” She held the paper to the window letting the filtered light illuminate the markings. The ink bled along the paper fibers into a blackish halo with no trace of the original lines.
“Seven fifty,” she said.
“Seven hundred fifty thousand. That’s approximately how much the Klee would get at auction today.” Jade folded the letter with care and slipped the envelope into the bag at her feet. “That’s enough to make this interesting.” She pulled earphones from a zipper pocket and shut out the sounds of the SUV, John, and the road vibrating underneath the tires. The letters and painting occupied part of her thoughts, while the text message she’d received just before finding John on the dock occupied the rest.
“I’m willing to bet Jacob knew about it,” said John
Jade pretended not to hear him, holding her thoughts close. Someone else knew Anna’s story, and their motive in sharing it with her was as murky as John’s.
His note didn’t motivate her to join the hunt, it was the text that read “it’s time” and a photo of the same painting hanging above the words. It had arrived an hour earlier with no trace of where it originated. John had used her as bait before to draw out the crime leader who murdered her father, Jacob Werner.
Since she didn’t trust John, there was no compelling reason to tell him about the text. Playing two sides of a long game was her specialty.