The Matter of the Crown
The Crown of the Andes, one of the world’s most precious and beautiful sacred objects, has been stolen right off the stage at Satterling’s Auction House in New York City. Five pounds of magnificent baroque gold that ransomed the Inca Ruler Atahaulpa, and hundreds of perfect Colombian emeralds, all gone without a trace! Will this legendary treasure be destroyed for its gold and emeralds? One woman is dead and another one in hot pursuit.
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Alfred Granfeld is a studious man. He has come to the old palace of a Contessa in the small hill town of Belforte to interview her about the Crown of the Andes. What she could tell him was of exceptional importance to his goal.
Alfred Granfeld, carrying a briefcase, ascended the steps of the home for elderly people, the ospizio, as it was called in Italy. The woman who had answered his fax instructed him that the Contessa now lived in “a very particular ospizio” that she owned, in Belforte, and that he was welcome to interview her there. At his hotel in the little town at the foot of the hill, he had learned that the Contessa herself had converted her palace into that home for a few very fortunate old people. And there, Alfred Granfeld understood, she was enthroned rather than incarcerated.
Just as Alfred Granfeld dressed each day in dignified English clothing each piece of which was well made and carefully selected for its lack of flashiness, he so attired himself on this day. Grey hairs were making their appearance around his face, giving him the demeanor of sharp wits. He inspected his visage each morning in the mirror and his fingernails, looking carefully for anything out of order. He studied his profile sometimes with his tightly cropped hair and its reddish tinge, his sideburns, his close shave. He assured himself that he looked as he knew that he was, a very serious and focused person, purposeful. Ageless. Yes, that was the word he preferred.
There were days when Alfred thought he might have looked well with pomade on his hair, but he knew it was far from the modern vogue. Nonetheless, he wished for it from time to time as a possible vehicle to conceal or at least diminish the levity of the red in his hair. A wayward hair could thus have been kept under control, as well, giving the pomade a respectable purpose.
Each day, Alfred studied not only his face but his calendar, and considered slowly just exactly what steps would be necessary that day in order to give effect to his plans. He found his clients and not the reverse. In fact, one could not call upon Alfred Granfeld. He would choose his clients, he smiled as he reminded himself. This was his orderly manner of business and he presided. He was a professional.
On this particular day, though he was suffering jetlag because of his return from New York, Alfred looked smart carrying his expensive English leather briefcase. He stood on the steps of the Contessa’s ospizio for elderly people. The Contessa had in the not-too-distant past decided to install a few of her favorite retired friends and relatives in her palazzo, and therefore named it her ospizio. It had been the family home of her deceased husband, the Count of Belforte. Alfred found the gate open at the appointed hour, so he drove his car onto the premises, parked at the foot of the steps, and approached the gigantic door, one well-shod foot at a time.
He thought, as he was contemplating the means by which he should make his presence there known, that the Countess of Belforte deserved to live well in her old age. She had had money even if now she lived in eroded grandeur.
Alfred was going to collect information from her in his interview. He had gone to greater lengths than the Contessa could possibly imagine to study her and her mode of living, and now to interview her. He had negotiated the byzantine ways of Italian titled society, the labyrinth of history and the Macerata province of Le Marche. The fax he had received had assured him that the Contessa would receive him and answer his questions about the Crown. He had arrived. The moment had come. He straightened his shoulders.
Alfred listened to both his fine Italian shoes and the slippers the maid wore as both of them shuffled along the stone floors. They walked through one grand room in the palazzo after another. The petite woman wearing a black dress and a starched white apron regarded him carefully, then guided him with scarcely a word. She would point, then move ahead. “Prego,” was all that she said.
The maid’s pace was determined by her diminutive size and her silent but noticeable pride in the grandeur of the building around them. Granfeld was meant to know where he was, as he gradually came to do. One was not to be rushed through great rooms in great palazzos in Italy. Generations had presided from this place in the hills of Le Marche and now it was the seat of this Contessa di Belforte.
The petite woman wearing the black dress and the starched white apron stopped suddenly. She turned to look back at her charge, and when satisfied, waved her hand gracefully across her torso. She was indicating to Alfred that he should enter the last room of the long corridor. It was the main room of this wing of the palazzo, the throne room in days gone by. Upon entering, he beheld its ceiling reaching to heaven, complete with the company of the gods and goddesses of ancient mythology gathered around the apotheosis of the Belforte family. All of the floating figures, painted in vibrant colors, looked down on Alfred below.
He became aware of a glow at the far end of the room where a fire burned in the wall, in its niche framed by blood red marble. Between Alfred and that far end of the room, three enormous Venetian chandeliers hung from the apotheosis scene like a cluster of jewels reflecting the light of the flames and heaven’s light from above. The maid was satisfied to see that Alfred was affected in the manner intended by all who had presided from this palazzo.
Eventually, Alfred’s eyes focused on a slim woman seated alone near the fireplace. She was in the process of putting a book down on a table beside the tufted divan on which she sat. She extended her hand while motioning for the younger man to advance and be seated beside her. She said simply in her deep voice and perfect English, “Welcome Mr. Granfeld. Please join me here.”
About Linda Ferreri
Linda Ferreri is a well-known art lawyer and author. Her books include novels about the Crown of the Anes, a novella entitled The King of UNINI, and whimsical hand-illustrated iBooks. She is known, also, for her drawings. She divides her time between Italy and the United States, and lectures widely around the world about art and history. Her next novel is in progress.