Dec 13, 2014

Bella Gioconda


Bella Gioconda by Richard Heket


Five hundred years can confuse identity. An old chalk drawing of a girl, Maria, the daughter of a Chianti vintner leaves a Swiss art collector, Claude Beauvin entangled in a Renaissance love story from the past.
The drawing is currently owned by a reclusive young widow, Andrea Garibaldi-Chase, who puts the drawing up for auction. With smoldering rumors that Leonardo da Vinci is the artist of the portrait, history is set on fire by a New York art dealer, an art history professor, and an intellectual property crimes investigator from INTERPOL who are all caught up in the drawings history. It’s not until after the auction that Beauvin learns who the girl really was, what influence she had over da Vinci and the centuries since, and how his growing feelings for Andrea transcends time and identity.


 “Good night, my love. I’m leaving now.” Claude Beauvin bid farewell to his wife, Ghiselle, in his native tongue of French, although he was actually a Swiss.
“Good luck, Claude,” Ghiselle answered while planting a soft kiss on her husband’s lips. Her accent was a little more clipped than his. 
Claude grabbed his luggage and walked down the path from his chalet on the hill to the Audi waiting in the driveway. He would rather, for the comfort, drive all the way to New York, but instead a coach seat was waiting for him at the airport in Bern.
Claude and Ghiselle were not wealthy, but they both knew it was the world in which they wanted to belong. 
Now, if he was clever enough, secret enough, bold enough, the lifestyle that they had dreamed of would be theirs. Claude slowly guided the Audi up the highway along the lakeshore, and then north to Bern.
The purpose of his trip was to see the portrait of a young girl that was owned by a woman in New York. The girl in the portrait was drawn in profile, set against a plain, caramel background and dressed in a silk brocade houppelande. She wore her auburn hair in a single braid cascading down her back, wrapped in a ribbon that began as a woven net at the back of her head; typical of feminine couture at the close of the fifteenth century. Rumors were circulating that the current owner of the drawing was considering selling it at auction.
With the drawing’s age estimated at five hundred years, and its condition flawless, Claude knew there was a possibility the bidding could rise toward six figures. Such a price was entirely out of his reach. Claude thought he was the only one who knew that the drawing was more than what it appeared. If any others knew of his potential discovery, the price of the drawing would rise beyond his hopes and all would be lost. 
Two years ago Claude had once traveled the short distance to Paris to see the drawing. He had a keen interest to purchase the portrait, even though he did not have the tantalizing suspicions he had now. However, his efforts had failed; Claude was never closer than across the room in which the drawing was placed on an easel in the salon of an art dealer who represented the seller. The sale was quick, and the drawing was spirited away by a woman whose manner was reclusive.
A glimmer of Claude’s secret of the portrait’s true nature had come to him shortly after the sale. It had appeared that Claude’s suspicion was gaining credibility. Since then he had made quiet inquiries and had been in contact with another art dealer in New York City. Claude did not know the dealer well; in fact, they had never met. After two years of intense investigation, Claude was not certain he had masked the realization of what he was going to see. Scruples were a dangerous article. Often, in the business of valuable art, one’s poor scruples were another’s daily trade. Claude did not even offer his true identity.
Instead, Claude invented an identity which was passed off as part of an obscure, old family in Switzerland of a vague Russian heritage. 
The dealer, Everest Cooper, was sufficiently impressed and not too curious.  Claude’s ability to feign the Russian accent, filtered by his natural French into English, was convincing enough to the American. Relnikov was the name Claude had given to the dealer; Ivan Relnikov. Relnikov contacted Cooper first by telephone, from Switzerland, from a rented room in the Beau Rivage Hotel in Lausanne. An art dealer was often the subject of fraud and was sometimes left holding a worthless piece. Relnikov decided Cooper would be careful enough to trace the call of a new, potential client.  Relnikov’s only concession, which would be unknown to Cooper, was that he had taken a single room, not a suite on the upper floor, since the enterprise had its purpose in this single telephone call that did not last more than fifteen minutes. He revealed none of his suspicion to Cooper on the telephone. Claude was so careful with his secret about the drawing; he had not fully apprised Ghiselle of all of his suspicions.
 “Mr. Cooper,” Relnikov said, with a heavy accent into the phone that was wired to its base by an uncoiled cord. This was his second contact with the art dealer. Their earlier conversation was easily a year old. “I’m so pleased to have reached you again,” he said when Cooper’s voice first came on the line. “My name is Ivan Relnikov. I am a private collector of the Italian Quattrocento period. We have spoken once before, some time ago. I have a proposal for a piece which has recently come to my attention.”
“Mr. Relnikov, I’d be pleased to help you within reason, of course.”
 “Please, just call me Ivan. I am of an old fashioned Russian family, but we are not as formal as you might expect. Private, but not… what is your American sense of it, a snob?”
Cooper laughed on cue. It was exactly what Cooper was and Relnikov easily guessed it. The laugh was not genuine. Worse, it was poorly feigned.
“I understand, Ivan,” the name was emphasized, further expressing Cooper’s airs, “your inquiry will be treated with proper discretion.  What is the piece in question?”
“It is a portrait of a young girl in profile.  The Bella…”
“Yes, I know the piece, The Bella Principessa.”
“I see I have found the right agent for my inquiry.”
“I don’t believe it is on the market, however...”
“Yes, I have heard rumors that the owner is considering an auction, but
I would prefer a non-competitive private sale. Can I see the piece in person?”
“Your visit could certainly be arranged.  Where may I call you after I have made the arrangements?”
“May I return a call to you; say in one week, Mr. Cooper? I may be difficult to reach. I travel frequently.”
“That would be acceptable, Ivan.”
Claude looked out the window of the hotel room still clutching the phone in his hand. Cooper would have to be handled with great care.

About the Author:

Richard Heket is a published writer of poetry and short fiction in a variety of periodicals. He is also a competent artist in oil, acrylic, ceramics and freelance graphic design. He has completed several novels of historic fiction of which, Bella Gioconda, is the first to be published. Richard was raised in Los Angeles, California and attended Brigham Young University on a writing scholarship. After a full career in manufacturing quality management, working in the U.S. and twenty-one other countries in North America, Western Europe and Asia, Richard is now fully devoted to writing novels, poetry and children’s illustrated stories.

Purchase Links: