Portrait of a Spy
the question with an ambiguous smile. Then, with her straw bag slung over her shoulder, she sauntered back down to the cove, her riotous dark hair tossed by the springtime wind. Within minutes of her arrival, the wailing of the opera ceased and the window shades of the cottage fell like eyelids.
They remained tightly closed for the next week, at which point the restorer and his beautiful wife disappeared without warning. For several days, the residents of Gunwalloe feared they might not be planning to return, and a few actually berated themselves for having snooped and pried into the couple’s private affairs. Then, while leafing through the Times one morning at the village store, Dottie Cox noticed a story from Washington, D.C., about the unveiling of a long-lost portrait by Rembrandt—a portrait that looked precisely like the one that had been in the cottage at the far end of the cove. And thus the mystery was solved.
Coincidentally, that same edition of the Times contained a front-page article about a series of mysterious explosions at four secret Iranian nuclear facilities. No one in Gunwalloe imagined there might be any connection. At least not yet.
The restorer was a changed man when he came back from America; they could see that. Though he remained guarded in his personal encounters—and he was still not the sort you would want to surprise in the dark—it was obvious a great burden had been lifted from his shoulders. They saw a smile on his angular face every now and again, and the light emitted by his unnaturally green eyes seemed a shade less defensive. Even his long daily walks had a different quality. Where once he had pounded along the footpaths like a man possessed, he now seemed to float atop the mist-covered cliffs like an Arthurian spirit who had come home after a long time in a distant land.
“Looks to me as if he’s been released from a sacred vow,” observed Vera Hobbs, owner of the village bakeshop. But when asked to venture a guess as to what that vow might have been, or to whom he had sworn it, she refused. Like everyone else in town, she had made a fool of herself trying to divine his occupation. “Besides,” she advised, “it’s better to leave him in peace. Otherwise, the next time he and his pretty wife leave the Lizard, it might be for good.”
Indeed, as that glorious summer slowly faded, the restorer’s future plans became the primary preoccupation of the entire village. With the lease on the cottage running out in September, and with no tangible evidence he was planning to renew it, they embarked on a covert effort to persuade him to stay. What the restorer needed, they decided, was something to keep him tethered to the Cornish coast—a job that utilized his unique set of skills and gave him something to do other than walk the cliffs. Exactly what that job might entail, and who would give it to him, they had no idea, but they entrusted to themselves the delicate task of trying to find it.
After much deliberation, it was Dottie Cox who finally hit upon the idea of the First Annual Gunwalloe Festival of Fine Arts, with the famous art restorer Giovanni Rossi serving as honorary chairman. She made the suggestion to the restorer’s wife the following morning when she popped into the village store at her usual time. The woman actually laughed for several minutes. The offer was flattering, she said after regaining her composure, but she didn’t think it was the sort of thing Signor Rossi would agree to. His official rejection came soon after, and the Gunwalloe Festival of Fine Arts quietly withered on the vine. It was no matter; a few days later, they learned that the restorer had taken the cottage for another year. Once again, the lease was paid in full, with all the paperwork handled by the same obscure lawyer in Hamburg.
With that, life returned to something like normal. They would see the restorer in mid-morning when he came to the village with his wife to do their marketing, and they would see him again in mid-afternoon when he hiked along the cliff tops in his Barbour coat and his flat cap pulled low over his brow. And if he failed to give them a proper greeting, they took no offense. And if he seemed uneasy about something, they gave him room to work it out on his own. And if a stranger came to town, they tracked his every move until he was gone. The restorer and his wife might have come from Italy originally, but they belonged to Cornwall now, and heaven help the
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