In the shadows, from generation to generation, crime is a family business. Among us, from generation to generation, families dedicate themselves lessening crime.
Set in present day Europe, In for a Penny, in for a Pound is a bit of a romance told within the only too real world of international crime. An analyst for an art consulting firm is tasked with a routine, low priority, background check of a client's statements. The assertions require only that the provenance be established. Spending a few hours visiting a World War II museum on the Dutch island of Texel seems the cheapest way to either conclude the investigation or justify further work.
Dominic offers to take his latest social interest with him to Texel and mix a little business with a long spring weekend. A single simple question to the museum curator ignites a sequence of harassment and intimidation marring their weekend. The ensuing combination of escape and discovery takes the pair across Europe and the Atlantic tracing Nazi era smuggling routes that are still active, still hidden within the fabric of every day commerce and still very profitable. Original obooko synopsis ends.
"This isn't nostalgic! Look at this place!"
"Well what did you expect? Something out of a 1930's movie? Billowing black coal smoke, hissing steam, wooden cars; come on, that was 70 years ago." I shook my head. For the first time in the nearly two weeks I'd known Barb she sounded like a New York Jewish princess.
We'd met because of our mothers. I was working on my backlog of cases. After my fourth cold, wet winter in Amsterdam I was bored. Nothing in my queue seemed worth the effort. Below in the back courtyard of the cafe the lunch crowd had thinned so I'd opened the door to the small balcony. These renovated buildings lacked air conditioning. The minor canal that split the street out front eventually led to one of the ring canals connecting to Amsterdam's harbor. From what was once the front sitting room you could look down on the tourists that ventured a few blocks away from the Dom square to glimpse the 'real Amsterdam'.
I glanced at the caller ID on the ringing phone. It was a number my mother had made me memorize before I could go out an play. "Good morning mother. How's the Island this morning?"
"Just fine, of course." Her tone, as much as the fact that she'd called me at work at 8 AM New York time, set off alarms that usually foretold dire events. "I was at a meeting yesterday and saw Mrs. Kratz. You remember them. Their eldest son went to school with you. Her youngest daughter went to work for her father, the art importer, when she got out of City. Now they want her to get to know more about the business so they sent her to their shop in Amsterdam. When Mrs. Kratz talked to her yesterday, Barbara that's her daughter's name, said she was feeling a little lost and lonely. So I'd like to call Mrs. Kratz back and say that you'll look in on her. You'll be at the office for a little while?"
"Yes." I figured that I had maybe fifteen minutes to go down to the cafe and exchange my empty mid morning mug for a fresh afternoon refill. Hey, there are advantages to working above a cafe and renting from the owner who lives above your office.
Yvette, the owners wife, saw me walking in with my empty mug and had a freshly filled one waiting by the time I got to the counter. I'd been thinking on the way down the stairs how I was going to carry off this 'looking in on' to my mother's and Mrs. Kratz expectations. As a single 35 year old Jewish man, the shadow of his mother's hand is never far away.
"Yvette, can I get the far corner table for say 8 tonight?"
"Ja. A primo date?"
"No. Just a family friend my mother wants me to entertain. I don't even know the woman."
With coffee in hand I had just reached the office when my phone rang. I picked it up without looking at the caller ID. I didn't need to. On a busy day I might get two or three calls. Most of my work came from referrals or emails from my dad in the New York office. "Good afternoon, I Brown and Company, how can I help you?"
"Mr. Swartz, this is Mrs. Kratz, from Long Island, New York. Your mother said you'd be willing to look in on my daughter and help her get settled in Amsterdam. She works at ..." The woman droned on and on. I took notes. Her daughter's whole history became outlined in blue ballpoint pen on the pages of a yellow pad. At least I'd have a few conversation starting points. With my left ear warm and probably red from over exposure, I finally got a chance to assure her that I'd give her daughter a call and arrange something.
The address of the art shop was on the way towards the Dom square. An area lined with tourist and antique/art shops. I closed up the office and walked there. The late spring flowering trees were in bloom and the heavy tourist crowds were a month away. Amsterdam can be lovely under the right conditions. I slowed down and enjoyed the stroll. I should have been thinking about how I was going to approach Mrs. Kratz's daughter.
I stopped at the window of the shop and collected my thoughts. A couple carrying blue and white KLM travel tour bags were at the register. I window shopped until they left and quickly hurried in.
Barbara must have seen me approach because she turned to put away a small box as I got to the counter. To her turning back I blurted "Miss Kratz, I'm Dominic Swartz. Our mother's ..."
"I can tell and I'm glad to finally meet you." She quickly squatted down to the shelf below the counter giving me only a view of the top of her head and the long black hair that flowed to well below her shoulders. Fumbling for something she spoke in a hurried tempo. "They've each called twice today. It's a good thing my uncle owns this business. He'd have fired the local help for spending so much time on the phone. Not that either let me say much. I need get a few things cleaned up and we'll go. He'll be happy to get rid of me so he can call and them and report that we're off." As she headed toward a curtained doorway at the back of the shop I realized that all I'd seen of her was a glimpse of her face, the top of her head and the back of a lovely five foot something figure not even a cardigan sweater could hide. Her words had been said quickly and nervously. The sound of her voice soothed my apprehension. Anything else about her besides her voice for the next few hours would be a bonus.
I nosed around the shop while waiting on her. They didn't carry cheap tourist items. Even the small stuff was expensive. Glass paperweights started at EUR100. I recognized several of the mid and late 20th century painters who were just starting to make a name for themselves. These were not their best works, but in a few years even these could appreciate noticeably. Especially if a major collector were to take notice of them or they became identified with an emerging style. The sculptures and jewelry looked expensive. The price tags were small and discretely placed. A glass wall case held key lit necklaces, earrings and bracelets. Each could have been a unique creation. The display case in front had a selection of estate quality rings. To the discerning and affluent this shop offered a wide variety of expensive treasures.
From behind me: "I'm ready!" I turned bracing myself for my first real look at my blind date. She looked up at me as I looked down. Soft afternoon light from the front windows would have hid any flaws if she'd had any. I memorized her every feature in the instant before I reached for her hand so she wouldn't find some last second excuse to have to stay any longer or beg off. Images of silver screen stars raced through my mind looking for a match. None were close. She was in every detail what I'd composited as perfect. Realizing that we were both smitten and relieved at our good fortune to be so, she gave my hand a gentle squeeze and led me outside.
Out on the sidewalk reality set in. "Where to Mr. Swartz?"
"A canal boat ride?"
"Haven't done that yet."
"Well then it is in for a penny ...
"... in for a pound." Barb and I finished in unison.
"Where did you get that?"
"Everyone knows that saying. My father used it all the time when we were kids and would start off on some new adventure, like riding our bikes along a new trail on the island. I didn't think about it. I just said it."
"My father did the same. He said it was just what you said when you started out on something new. I figured it was his way of expressing commitment."
"I'm committed, if you are?"
For the next eight hours I remember nothing except being with her on the boat tour, having a glass of wine at a sidewalk cafe, a walk back to our reserved quiet corner table and dinner.
"I guess we should call our mothers."
"OK. Let's go up to my office." I pointed to my balcony. "If dad questions the calls, I'll tell him is was mother's doing."
"You really do work right up there?"
"Well, yes. How else do you think we got this table. You saw the line as we walked in and there hasn't been an empty place all night. Besides it helps that they are my landlord for the office and my flat."
"You eat dinner here regularly?"
"A few times a week. And lunch and coffee."
"And you live close by?"
"Just in the next block. Around the corner from you."
"You know where I live?"
"When we get up to the office I'll show you the pages of notes I took as your mother dictated your life story to me this afternoon."
"At least your mother faxed me your picture and CV, not that either did you justice. I was more than a little apprehensive about meeting you. My mother has set me up, using one pretext or another, with some classic losers. When you walked in backlit by the front windows and started to introduce yourself even before you got to the counter my heart sank. I had to find some excuse so I pretended to put things away below the counter When my eyes were able to adjust and focus on your reflection in the glass counter I couldn't believe my good fortune at having a date with you. Then I had to go into the back room to catch my breath and regain some semblance of composure. The rest has been ..."
In my impatience to tell her my side, I cut off what she was saying. "You don't say! In four years here I've entertained god only knows how many of my mother's friends daughters who just happened to be here for the day. Up until this afternoon if I could have divorced my mother I would have. Now I never ..."
"I think they owe us!"