Chasing Cezanne

Chasing Cezanne by Peter Mayle Read Free Book Online

Book: Chasing Cezanne by Peter Mayle Read Free Book Online
Authors: Peter Mayle
the house.
    Curious, Andre narrowed his eyes against the glare of the sun, unable to make out any details. And then he remembered his camera. He had put it on the passenger seat,fitted with the long lens on the off chance of his coming across an interesting shot on the road, a habit he had developed years before. Taking the camera from the car, he adjusted the focus until the figure at the front door was sharp and clear. And, now, familiar.
    Andre recognized him as Old Claude (so called to distinguish him from Young Claude, who was the head gardener). For twenty years, Old Claude had been Denoyer’s
homme à tout faire
, his handyman, caretaker, runner of errands, driver of guests to and from the airport, supervisor of the indoor staff, guardian of the speedboat, an essential member of the domestic establishment. On the shoot, he had been good-natured and useful, helping to move furniture and adjust lights. Andre had joked about hiring him as an assistant. But what the hell was he doing with the painting?
    That, too, was familiar: a Cézanne—the family Cézanne, a very fine study that had once belonged to Renoir. Andre remembered exactly where it had hung, above the ornamental fireplace in the main salon. Camilla had insisted on a series of close-ups, to catch the ravishing brushwork, so she said, although she had never used a single close-up in the article.
    Acting on photographer’s instinct as much as considered thought, Andre took several shots of Claude on the doorstep before his body was hidden from view by a small van that pulled around from the side of the house and stopped in front of him. It was a conventional, dirty blue Renault of the kind found by the hundred in every town inFrance. A small panel on the side identified it as belonging to
Zucarelli Plomberie Chauffage
, and as Andre watched through the lens, the driver got out, opened the back doors of the van, and removed a large cardboard carton and a roll of bubble wrap. He was joined by Claude.
    The two men wrapped the painting carefully and placed it in the carton. The carton went back in the van. The doors were closed. The men disappeared inside the house. All of this recorded on film.
    Andre lowered the camera. What was that all about? It couldn’t possibly be a burglary, not in broad daylight in the presence of Claude, the infinitely trustworthy Claude with his twenty years of faithful service. Was the painting being sent away for cleaning? Reframing? If so, why was it leaving the house in the back of a plumber’s van? It was odd. It was very odd.
    But as Andre had to admit, it was none of his business. He returned to the car and drove slowly back through clean, respectable, somnolent Cap Ferrat until he reached the coast road that would take him into Nice.
    Despite an initial mild and really quite unjustified feeling of anticlimax—Marie-Laure would probably never have remembered him anyway; or else closer acquaintance would have shown her to be a spoiled brat after all—Andre found himself enjoying his day off. Unlike Cannes, which slips into a kind of languid semihibernation once the festivals are over and the tourists have escaped, Nice remains awake all through the year. Restaurants stay open, markets continue, the streets are busy, the Promenade des Anglais is a-bob with joggers who like their exercise witha sea view, the traffic spits and snarls, the town breathes and sweats and lives.
    Andre strolled through the lanes of Vieux Nice, with a stop at the Place Saint-François to admire some recently removed residents of the Mediterranean, now occupying slabs in the fish market. He sat outside and had a beer in the Cours Saleya, using his long lens again to take shots of the stallholders and their clients, the worthy housewives of the neighborhood, connoisseurs of the lettuce and the broad bean and the bargain. After a lunch of
moules
and salad and cheese, he shot three or four rolls of color in Auer and Alziari,

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