Alain, who had been a waiter at the Ritz and was now a sort of butler/footman/major domo to the Prince Ashmore and Liegeman Sir James, hand delivered the telegram in its envelope to Gary. He should have had a sterling salver to present it on, but that, along with the rest of their silver service, was on order. Gary had insisted on providing the silversmith with silver from his own mine. He’d read somewhere that old time miners used to do that if they struck it rich.
But that was only one of many delays. The china service had not been delivered as yet and they were still using a cheap set of hotel grade crockery that was devoid of charm or style. They had no serving dishes and he had to make do with platters and bowls. It was taxing, but also kind of fun.
Despite these hardships, Alain had taken the delivery boy, a handsome young Bwca1, into the kitchen where he was provided with ice cold apple cider and the makings for a sandwich.
GARY STOP MUST SEE YOU RE PAINTING STOP
PLEASE ADVISE TIME DATE STOP DADO
Gary scribbled a short note to the effect that they could meet at his convenience and wherever he wished. They would send Copey to work out the details. This was returned to the post office lad who was on his second sandwich.
Two days later The Count Alisson of Diego KGCGD, a noted expert on antiquities and the authenticity and dating of same, arrived with Copenhagen and a leather carrying case that was the acme of restrained elegance. In the other world, he had been one of the Kings’ foster fathers before anyone knew that Justin was a Prince who would be the King, that was where he earned the endearment ‘Dad-o’. He placed the case on the table and carefully opened it. He put white cotton gloves on and carefully removed the painting and placed it on an easel that folded out of the carrying case.
“This appears to be a copy of Raphael’s painting, ‘Portrait of a Young Man’. That work would have been painted, probably, in the early 16th Century, Raphael —sadly—did not live long, but he presided over one of the largest Renaissance studios in Italy, so he was quite prolific.
“One of the first things I do, with an antiquity, is to carefully smell it.” He looked sternly at his audience as though daring them to laugh. They did not.
“Something that is new, particularly if it has the chemicals that oil paint and varnish have, then it will have a distinctive smell. This painting is old. It passed the smell test with flying colors. It smells of decrepitude.
“Next I like to look at the craquelure. That’s what we call the cracking of the paint that so many old paintings have. Forgers have to give their modern copies the appearance of craquelure, and they must do it in a way that passes the smell test, among others. The craquelure of this work is what we would expect of an old work.
“So far, I’ve done all this work in my studio at the Palace. I’ve examined every inch with magnification. But now our work becomes more technical and so does the equipment. So at this point I must go to see my friends at the Museo d’Arte e Scienza in Milano.
“Now we get scientific. We remove tiny samples of paint and wood from the panel so that we can test for the ingredients of the paint as well as their age, and the age of the wood panel. We don’t want any modern pigment in this 16th Century paint; no fresh cut poplar in the panel.
“We also do an infrared reflectography test on the work to see if there is another work beneath the surface and if any restoration work has been done on the painting. The only underwork is consistent with the outlining one might expect of any artist and the usual base coats of the period.
“While all this has been going on, the painting has been subjected to what might be called a stylistic review. Is it in the style of Raphael? Is the brushwork similar, the composition, all of those rather subtle clues that are indicative of a particular artist’s work? Has he done this before? Is this his style?”
He paused and looked solemnly at Gary and Jamie, at Donnie and Alain, at Copenhagen and Cameron.
“In my opinion, stylistically, this is the work of Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino popularly known as Raphael who lived from 1483 to 1520 and whose work in art and architecture is well known. Visible today in the Vatican and other museums and buildings around the world; he is an icon of the High Renaissance.
“The latest chemical tests, and tests for age, give us an approximate date of this work as 1510 +/- 10%. This is the result from the test of the wood. The other tests give us the same approximate age, but with a much smaller margin of error; so I give you the largest margin of error for discussion purposes. This age is appropriate to a work by Rafael, or his studio.
“I had begun to suspect this was an authentic work rather early on, so I had to go to considerable lengths to keep its appearance secret. I was able to do the infrared work by myself as I’m an esteemed customer of the Museo and have given them several lucrative referrals. And of course, I’m known to have influential and wealthy connections.
“But if this work is what I think it is, we have a marvelous and possibly dangerous mystery on our hands. This painting was stolen from the Polish people by the narzis during World War II.” Dad-o smiled, “I’ve always admired Churchill’s deliberate mispronunciation. You can almost hear him not capitalizing the name. In any event, how this masterpiece could possibly come to be in the small town of Vesontio in Ellendale has got to be an epic tale.
“And how do we return it? It’s beyond value; it’s priceless. I’m going to place it in the palace vault when I return, if that’s agreeable to you.”
1 The Bwca are commonly referred to as Tommy Knockers. They tend to be of Welsh or Cornish extraction, they once principally inhabited mines where their job was to warn miners of the shifting of the earth by knocking on the mine timbers. When all was quiet, they would move tools around and perhaps help themselves to a miner’s lunch. But as the mines closed, or were opened into open pits, more and more of them moved into homes and garages where there were plenty of tools to move around. Many had joined the army. They tend to be a little smaller than an elve or a human but not dramatically so. They can move swiftly and can seem to be almost invisible.