“Le premier pas, mon fils, que l'on fait dans le monde,
Est celui dont depend le reste de nos jours.
(The first step, my son, which one makes in the world,
is the one on which depends the rest of our days.)”
Voltaire, L'Indiscret

Maximillian Emmerich paced the small reception area outside the curator’s office.  

He noticed the young lady behind the desk eyeing him and stopped abruptly.  She gave him a small smile. “Monsieur Emmerich, why don’t you have a seat?”  She gestured to a chair next to a potted tree.  “Monsieur Fournier will be with you shortly.”    

Max reluctantly dropped into the chair.  Fidgeting, he fingered the brochures featuring the various exhibits at the Louvre, pausing on the postcard announcing the grand gala celebrating upcoming exhibit of a long lost Rembrandt.  He picked up the postcard and looked at the illustration depicting the painting – The Girl With Daffodils.  He marveled over the wonder of discovery, a masterpiece that had been lost for so long finally uncovered.  His apprehension increased as he realized that his presence would bring a halt to the planned celebration.    

Nervously, Max checked his watch.  He had visited the Louvre on many occasions, gaining his appreciation of art from his grandfather.  However, being escorted into the administration offices by an armed guard was a first for him.  He wished he was here under different circumstances, but when you are asked to personally meet with the curator of the Louvre, you don’t say no.  

His shoulders tensed when the phone on the assistant’s desk buzzed.  She efficiently picked up, murmured into the receiver and hung up.  “Monsieur Fournier will see you now,” she informed him, tilting her head toward the door to the curator’s office.

Max rose from the chair and straightened his tie.  He wasn’t sure of the dress code; however, a suit just seemed appropriate for a meeting with Monsieur Jean-Luc Fournier, Curator Directoire of the Louvre.  He drew in a deep breath, strode to the door, turned the handle and entered. 

He was immediately struck by a wave of claustrophobia.  He would have thought that the curator would have his pick of offices in the Louvre – perhaps even one with a view of Jardin du Carrousel.   In contrast to the open windowed space he had imagined, this office was small and compact, evidence of his work at the museum found in open books, blueprints and handwritten notes.  

“We save the larger spaces for the public, Monsieur Emmerich,” Jean-Luc Fournier chuckled from behind his desk in the center of the room.  He paused, waiting for the young man’s eyes to meet his.  “I know it is not what you might have imagined, but for me, it is adequate.” 

Max took a step inside, marveling at the floor to ceiling bookshelves.  The small rectangular windows near the top of what Max estimated to be roughly a nine-foot ceiling let in just enough light to illuminate the space.  Within his line of sight, he was not surprised to see several large coffee-table sized books on 16th century Flemish masters.  He knew Monsieur Fournier’s area of expertise.  Out of habit, Max had done a bit of research on the curator; he liked to know what to expect.

Jean-Luc Fournier rose as Max approached the desk, holding out his hand.  “It is indeed a pleasure to meet you.”  He took Max’s hand in a firm grip.  “I am interested to hear how you came about the information that The Girl With Daffodils is a forgery.”  

Max heard the certainty in his tone and the words cemented the dread in his heart.  “So you have confirmed that the painting is a fake?” It was both a question and an answer.

“Yes, we have, Monsieur Emmerich.”

“I just want to assure you, Monsieur Fournier, I only came upon this information recently.”  Despite the truthfulness of this statement, Max still had to squelch the guilt inside of him.  “I was hoping, really hoping that there was a mistake…”  His voice trailed off. 

“Not to worry,” Monsieur Fournier assured him, “This is a wrinkle, yes, but an interesting wrinkle, don’t you think?”  He offered Max a chair near the desk.  “Why don’t you have a seat?  We might as well be comfortable as we talk and, please, call me Jean-Luc.  I suspect that this tale is not a short one and I, for one, could do without the formalities, Max.”

Relief was released from Max in one cleansing motion; he had truly feared the wrath of the Louvre gods upon his announcement.  The kind, calm demeanor and sincerity reflected in the silvery blue eyes of the curator was unexpected. 

“Yes, thank you.  I don’t know what to say,” Max admitted. 

“Why don’t you start at the beginning?” Jean-Luc suggested, settling down in his chair.

“Well, this is my grandfather’s story, and I am sorry that he is unable to be here to relay this information to you in person.  He is not well,” Max admitted.  “However, I will do my best to do the story justice.”  He eased himself into the chair next to the desk and took a deep breath before beginning his grandfather’s story.  “This is not a story that is easy to tell or one that my grandfather or I are proud of.  My grandfather was an officer in the Nazi army.  His duty was to identify and sequester Jews to be sent to the concentration camps.  In addition to this, he was also commanded to loot valuables from the arrested Jews to support the Nazi Party.  These items were turned over to his superiors, and were either sold to fund the war or added to Hitler’s museum collection.  For the most part these items were pieces of artwork.  As the war went on, my grandfather began to think about his future and how he could benefit.  This change in attitude began when my grandfather met a woman.  This woman was an artist, classically trained, with enough talent to copy the masters.  She had a particular fondness for Rembrandt and Vermeer, and she convinced my grandfather that she could copy their paintings well enough to fool his superiors.  They devised a plan in which my grandfather would divert certain paintings to his partner, and she would reproduce them.  The copies would be funneled into the Nazi party, and the originals would be stashed away as an investment to secure their futures.”

“So this woman is, uh, was your grandmother?” Jean-Luc queried.

“No,” Max interjected.  “They became separated during the last year of the war.  He was captured, you see, and held in prison through the surrender.  By the time he was released, he had lost track of her.  He attempted to find her, returning to the last place he had seen her, the place where she had forged the final painting.  The building was nothing but rubble, it had been bombed, and there was no trace of her.  Unable to find her, my grandfather was forced to start a new life without her.  He sold the majority of the original paintings that they had kept and used that money to begin a new life, to start fresh.  However, my grandfather couldn’t part with the final painting, a Rembrandt of a girl holding a bouquet of daffodils.  I think he held on to hope that his partner would resurface one day and he would be able turn over the final painting to her as her share.”

Jean-Luc’s features reflected the incredulity in his softly spoken undertone.  “The Girl With Daffodils,” he whispered. 

Meeting Jean-Luc’s gaze, Max confirmed, “Yes, sir, that is the one and I have no idea where it is.”

The enormity of the moment hung in the air.  Exhausted by the unburdening of his soul, Max searched Jean-Luc’s face for guidance.  The elder man was in a state of quiet reflection, pondering his response, gently massaging the back of his bald head with one hand.  “Very good,” he finally said. 

“What do you mean ‘very good’?” Max interrupted.  “I am sure this is catastrophic to the Louvre.  You have a press conference tomorrow; you are unveiling the piece,” Max rambled.  “Are you not the least bit upset?” he demanded.  

“Don’t be impertinent!  Of course, I am upset, but what is done is done,” Jean-Luc retorted.  The moment of irritation seemed to dissipate as quickly as it had flared.  “Max, I greatly appreciate you bringing forth this important information, please, believe me.”  He spoke gently as if to one of his grandchildren.  “I know that it must have been unsettling to have your grandfather reveal his past to you – one that he was not proud of as evidenced by his hiding of it.”   

Emotion brimmed in Max’s eyes.  How, how did this complete stranger know what he was feeling?  He hung his head, conflicted by the love he had for his grandfather and shame of his grandfather’s dark secret.  He felt as though the weight of his family history would smother him.  His grandfather was the most important man in his life. After the death of his parents when Max was just a child, his grandfather and grandmother raised him.  The death of his grandmother only solidified his bond with his grandfather.  To find out now that his grandfather’s life, his history, had been built on a lie was almost more than he could forgive.  He sensed Jean-Luc rise from his desk and felt him crouch down next to the chair.

“Max,” he commanded, “look at me.”  Max blinked away a tear, his vision swimming back onto focus to meet the strong determined gaze of Jean-Luc.  “It will be okay,” he promised. “Above all else, one must live one’s life in the pursuit of truth and honor.  Often this path is not linear, and, it can never be achieved without help.  Together we will restore the balance.” 

Deep in his soul, Max believed him and felt a seed of hope being planted.  “What do we need to do?” he asked.

“As I mentioned before, my staff has confirmed that the painting is indeed a forgery.  I have also reviewed their detailed report.  The forgery is a splendid copy; the artist was an exquisite talent.  One can only imagine what she would have achieved if she had focused on more original pursuits.  Please understand that this must be held in the strictest of confidences.  First, the opening must be postponed until we are able to uncover more information about the original.”  Jean-Luc held up his hand, as if understanding what Max were going to ask. “That is not for you to worry about.  I will handle it.  The press conference isn’t until tomorrow.  I have plenty of time to fabricate a plausible story, if pressed for a reason.”

Jean-Luc rested a hand on Max’s arm.  “I have brought in an expert to help us, and this is where your role lies.  We must find The Girl With Daffodils.”

The intercom on Jean-Luc’s phone buzzed.  “Monsieur Fournier? I’m sorry to interrupt.  Mademoiselle Lynch has just arrived.  Can I send her in?”

Jean-Luc rose, reaching across his desk for the phone.  “Just a moment,” he delayed.

Jean-Luc placed a reassuring hand on Max’s shoulder.  Reaching into his breast pocket, he produced a handkerchief and offered it to Max.  Max accepted it gratefully and watched as Jean-Luc crossed the room to the door, pausing to look back.  With a nod of his head, Max acknowledged both his thankfulness for time to compose himself and that he was ready to welcome this unknown guest. 

Jean-Luc opened the door and embraced the young woman who entered the room.  “Diana, thank you for coming on such short notice,” he exclaimed. “I have someone for you to meet, and we desperately need your help.”

Jean-Luc stepped aside to allow his guest to enter the room.  The young lady strode by him purposefully and reached out to take Max’s hand.  “Bonjour, I am Diana Lynch and who might you be?”

“I, uh, I’m Max.  Maximillian Emmerich, but you can call me, Max, everyone does and...” Catching sight of the slight smile cracking the corner of her mouth, he shut his, feeling the warmth of a blush on his cheeks.          

“It is very nice to meet you, Max.” She gave his hand a slight squeeze before releasing it.  Diana brushed the wrinkles out of her purple suit, a gesture that Max found both familiar and comforting, before taking a seat in the chair to the left of Max.  “Sounds like you gentlemen have quite the situation on your hands.” 

Jean-Luc had to sidestep around Diana’s chair to get to his own.  “Max, Diana participated in a semester abroad program here at the Louvre when she was in college.  She is quite the art historian, and as a personal favor to me, has agreed to come on board as a consultant for this particular situation.  She is the best.”

Now it was Diana’s turn to blush. “Jean-Luc is very kind.  All the best stuff, I learned from him.”

“I would appreciate it if you could repeat the story as you know it to Diana,” Jean-Luc requested. 

As Max complied, he noticed that going through the details of the story was easier the second time.  The wave of emotion that had overwhelmed him during the first go around was lessened.  Diana listened intently, her violet eyes on his, allowing him to complete his thoughts without interruption. 

“It is our hope that The Girl With Daffodils can be recovered, Max,” Jean-Luc took over as Max finished.  “With your permission, Diana has agreed to accompany you on your search as a resource and to provide confirmation of the authenticity of any painting that you might uncover.  The existence of the forgery makes it imperative that we are absolutely sure it is the original when you find it.  We do not want to be fooled twice.”

“But I don’t have the slightest idea where to look for the painting,” Max confessed.

“Max, we don’t expect that much of you,” Diana reassured him.  “It is my hope that by working together, we can make sense of the past and gather enough information to find the painting.  Will you let me help you?”

“I just don’t want to disappoint you,” Max replied, his response directed at Jean-Luc.  “What if we don’t find it?”

“I have faith that this mystery will be solved, Max, but either way, you have searched for the truth.”

“Are you ready to go?” Diana asked, getting up from her chair and offering Max her hand.

“Where are we going?”

“To see your grandfather, of course.  Perhaps we can help him remember more details that will get us pointed in the right direction.”  Max held the door to let Diana exit first.  Obviously familiar with the behind-the-scenes maze which was the administrative offices, Diana turned to her left and started down the long corridor.  Max had to pick up his pace to catch up to her, the rhythm of Diana’s boots clipping sharply on the marble hallway acting as his personal metronome.  Falling into step with Diana, he was content to follow, not quite sure what this adventure had in store for them. 



Disclaimer: Characters from the Trixie Belden series are the property of Random House. They are used without permission, although with a great deal of affection and respect. Title image from istockphoto; border graphic from Absolute Background Textures Archive. Graphics on these pages copyright 2010 by Mary N.

Copyright by Beverly, Jenn, MCarey, MaryN, 2010

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