On a sultry July day, the shopkeeper lounges in front of his antique shop. A wide brim straw hat masks his shiny scalp from the sun. He rests his denim clad legs and bare feet over a chair. He sips black turkish coffee and reads the Daily Gazette. His dog, a pale golden lab, sleeps nearby in the shade.
The shopkeeper and his dog stretch mid-morning. They cross the road to a grassy field, narrowly avoiding the tangle of cars speeding by. Through the field and uphill, the two walk until they reach the top and disappear down the other side.
The sign on the shop reads, Be back in thirty.
On their return trip, the shopkeeper pulls a torn baguette, a wedge of Camembert cheese, and three medallions of salami from his pocket. He tosses the salami to his dog as they sit on the edge of the brook running through the base of the field.
A customer waits outside the shop door. She taps her foot, thirty-five minutes pass. When the shopkeeper and his dog return to find the woman outside he unlocks the door, removes the note from the door, and greets the woman.
“Nice day, isn’t it,” he says, “hope you haven’t been waiting long.”
“Right, never mind all that, just let me in,” she says, “I’m looking for a particular painting. A rare and stolen painting taken from a museum in Zurich two years ago. Maybe you’ve seen the painting in question, Van Gogh’s Blossoming Chestnut Branches? It’s been missing for two years. A little absurd that such a treasure could end up here, I know. Why would you have a Van Gogh for sale in this little shack out in the middle of nowhere? Well, I’ll tell you why. It was traced … “
Her voice trails off as if she can’t be bothered to explain herself further. She brushes past the shopkeeper and his dog, in near collision.
“I can’t say that I’ve seen a Van Gogh,” he says, “outside of a museum I mean. Care for a cup of tea?”
“Tea,” she hisses, “really, I can’t be bothered with such frivolity at a time like this. The world is coming unglued and I don’t think tea is the answer.”
The woman puts on a pair of gloves and sorts through a stack of modern paintings.
Inside his standing room only shop is a tidy homage to silver, porcelain, paper, and glass. The narrow aisles are barely hip-width, yet with all the history stored in postcard sized space, it is spotless. Not a speck of dust to be traced with a white glove. The clocks, spoons, books, paintings, maps, and furnishings are densely packed in an architecture of display.
The shopkeeper takes a seat on a narrow bench next to a towering stack of yellow newspapers. He straightens the stack then walks over to the record player and carefully places the needle on and plays Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings.
“Listen,” she says, “I’m sorry if I’m being a little brusque. My reputation’s on the line and I must find this painting.”
She hands the shopkeeper her business card.
Art Recovery Specialist
16 East 81st Street
New York, New York 10001
“Mr. Renard, I’ll be in touch,” she says.
“Please, it’s Jean-Louis,” he says.
She hurries outside closes the shop door, he walks over to the painting centered on the back wall and nudges it a hare right, just until the sun lights up the citrus colored branches.