Adrian Weynfeldt is an art expert in an international auction house, a bachelor in his mid-fifties living in a grand Zurich apartment filled with costly paintings and antiques. Always correct and well-mannered, he’s given up on love until one night—entirely out of character for him—Weynfeldt decides to take home a ravishing but unaccountable young woman. The next morning, he finds her outside on his balcony threatening to jump. Weynfeldt talks her down, then soon finds himself falling for this damaged but alluring beauty and his buttoned-up existence swiftly comes unraveled. As their two lives become entangled, Weynfeldt gets embroiled in an art forgery scheme that threatens to destroy everything he and his prominent family have stood for. This refined page-turner moves behind elegant bourgeois facades into darker recesses of the heart.
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Excerpt from The Last Weynfeldt
Don’t do it, he wanted to say. He couldn’t.
Adrian Weynfeldt fixed his gaze on the woman’s pale, freckled fists clamped to the wrought-iron balustrade, knuckles glowing white. He didn’t want to risk looking her in the eyes; she had chosen him as her witness, and he hoped that jumping without eye contact would be too impersonal for her.
Her bare feet poked through the gap between the balustrade and the balcony. Every toenail was painted a different color. He had noticed it last night. Red, yellow, green, blue and violet on the right foot; the same colors in reverse on the left, meaning that the two middle nails both gleamed green.
She hadn’t extended the motif to her fingernails. They were lacquered with clear varnish, painted white where they protruded beyond the fingertip. They weren’t actually visible this second, but he remembered them. Weynfeldt was a visual person.
The knuckles turned from white back to pink; she had loosened her grip. “It’s only thirty feet,” he said quickly. “You might survive, but it wouldn’t be much fun.”
The knuckles went whiter again. Weynfeldt shifted his left foot forward, level with his right, then inched the right a half step farther.
“Stay right where you are!” the woman said.
What was her name? Gabriela? He couldn’t remember; he had no memory for names. “Sure. But if I stay where I am, so must you.”
She didn’t say anything, but her knuckles remained white.
The lights were usually on all day in the office building across the street, with its neoclassical façade. Today was Sunday, still early in the morning. There were no people on the street; the streetcars which normally went by were few and far between, and only occasionally could a car be heard. Weynfeldt shuddered at the thought of the scene taking place on a weekday. The woman was wearing a black bra and matching black panties. At least he hoped she was still wearing the panties; the green canvas sheet which hung from the balustrade to provide privacy now obscured his view of her below the waist. And when he woke she had already been standing outside.
He wasn’t sure what had woken him—not a noise, perhaps the unfamiliar perfume. He had lain there a while, eyes closed, trying to remember her name; her face he could see.
A little leaner maybe, less determined, more disillusioned. But the same pale, freckled skin, the same slightly slanted green eyes, the same red hair and, above all, the same mouth, the upper lip almost the same shape as the lower.
It was the face he’d been trying both to forget and to remember for years.
Adrian Weynfeldt had spent this Saturday night as he spent every Saturday night: in the company of his older friends. He had two circles. One was made up of people fifteen or more years younger than him. Among them he was seen as an exotic original, someone you could confide in, but also make fun of sometimes, who would discreetly pay the check in a restaurant, and help out occasionally when you had financial difficulties. They treated him with studied nonchalance as one of their own, but secretly basked in the glow of his name and his money. In their company he could visit clubs and bars he would have felt too old for otherwise.
His other group of friends was composed of people who had known his parents, or at least moved in their circles. They were all over sixty, some over seventy; a couple had already reached eighty. And yet they all belonged to his generation. Adrian Weynfeldt was born late to a couple who had remained childless for many years. His mother was forty-four when he came into the world; she had died nearly five years ago, shortly before reaching ninety-five, when Weynfeldt was fifty.
Adrian Weynfeldt had no friends his own age.
Last night he had been with his elderly friends, in the Alte Färberei, a traditional restaurant in a guildhall in the old town, only ten minutes by foot from his apartment. Dr. Widler had been there, his mother’s doctor, increasingly listless in recent months, several sizes thinner and threatening to vanish inside his tailored suits—his wife Mereth all the more lively, her makeup, hair, and clothes impeccable as ever. And as ever, she took delight in contrasting her china-doll image with colorful language and vulgar remarks.
Remo Kalt joined them, Weynfeldt’s recently widowed cousin on his mother’s side, in his mid-seventies, wearing a black three-piece suit with a gold pocket-watch and a neat Thomas Mann moustache, as if he’d come from a portrait sitting with Ferdinand Hodler. Remo Kalt was an asset manager; he had looked after Weynfeldt’s parents’ capital and continued to manage it for their son. Adrian could easily have taken this over, but hadn’t had the heart to deprive Kalt of his last remaining client. There wasn’t much you could get wrong; these were not immense assets, though certainly solid, and conservatively invested for the long term.
They had ordered the Berner Platte, a shared meat dish featured on the menu throughout the winter. Dr. Widler had hardly touched a thing. His wife, a woman who had moved from willowy via slender to gaunt over the years, had taken two servings of everything – bacon, tongue, blood sausage, smoked ham. Kalt had kept pace. Weynfeldt had eaten like a man still vaguely concerned about his figure.
The evening was pleasant yet forced. Forced because Mereth Widler’s provocative remarks had long begun to wear thin, and because everyone around the table knew this was one of the last times her husband would sit at it.
The Widlers left early, Weynfeldt drank one more for the road with Remo Kalt, and when shortly afterward they ran out of conversation, they ordered Kalt a taxi.
Weynfeldt waited with him at the entrance. The night was much too mild for February; it felt like spring. The sky was clear, and the moon rising high over the old town’s steep roofs was almost full. The street was empty except for an elderly woman with an energetic spitz on a leash. They watched in silence: powerless, she let her dog walk her, stopping every time he wanted to sniff something, rushing to catch up when he wanted to move on, change direction, or cross the road.
At last headlight beams shone around the corner of the road, followed by a slowly-approaching taxi which stopped in front of them. They parted with a formal handshake, and Weynfeldt watched the taxi drive away, its sign switched off now, its brake lights red as it halted at the junction with the main road.
His route home included a stretch of the river and La Rivière, a bar he found it hard to pass at this time of night; it was nearly eleven p.m. He went in for a drink, as he so often did on the Saturday nights he spent with his elderly friends.
Two or three years ago La Rivière had been a run-down dessert café. Then it was taken over by one of the city’s many gastronomic entrepreneurs, who had turned it into an American-style cocktail bar. Two barkeepers in eggshell-colored dinner jackets mixed martinis, manhattans, daiquiris and margaritas, served in sleek glasses. On Saturday nights a trio played smooth jazz classics at a subdued volume.
It was still half empty, but that would change in the next fifteen minutes as the cinemas emptied. Weynfeldt sat in his usual place at the bar: the first bar stool from the wall. From there he could observe what was going on, and never had to deal with more than one neighbor. The barman knew him and brought him a martini. Weynfeldt would probably just eat the olive; he was a very moderate drinker.
Nor did he indulge in any other excesses. When he dropped by a bar on the way home, he wasn’t hunting for sex, warmth, a little company, like most single men. He did not suffer from loneliness. Quite the opposite: he liked solitude. When he did sometimes go in search of company, it was in a conscious effort to moderate his loner tendencies.
As for sexual needs, ever since a particular episode—or blow—earlier in his life, they had played an ever more insignificant role in Adrian Weynfeldt’s life.
And so the course of events that evening was highly untypical.
No sooner had the barman served him his martini than a woman entered the bar, put her coat and handbag on the bar stool beside Weynfeldt, sat on the next one over and ordered a gin fizz. She was wearing a green silk Chinese blouse, white arms extending from its short, close sleeves, a tight black skirt and high heels a similar shade of green to the blouse. Her long red hair was tied up, secured with an imitation tortoiseshell clasp to free her neck, which the blouse’s high collar circled loosely.
She had not yet looked at him, but when the barman placed her drink in front of her, she took the glass and raised it to Weynfeldt briefly. She didn’t wait for him to raise his glass and return the gesture. But once she had taken a drink, half the cocktail in one gulp, she turned to him and smiled.
It was a smile Weynfeldt knew.
He was so startled he put the glass to his lips and poured the contents down his throat. The woman who had smiled at him resembled Daphne so closely it seemed impossible that instead of speaking English—Daphne’s melodic Welsh-inflected English—she now greeted him with the highly Swiss Pröschtli, no trace of an English accent. Now she had spoken, the spell was broken, and he was no longer afraid he was seeing Daphne’s ghost. Above all because the gin fizz was clearly not her first alcoholic drink of the evening and she spoke with a slight drawl. Daphne hadn’t drunk at all.
“Your olive,” she said. “If you don’t want it, I’ll take it off your hands.”
Weynfeldt passed his empty glass to her. She fished the cocktail pick out and put the olive in her mouth. While she ate, she appraised him blatantly, spitting the stone into her palm and dropping it in Weynfeldt’s empty glass. Then she finished her drink. “Lorena,” she said.
“Adrian Weynfeldt,” he replied. He was not someone who started with first names at a first meeting.
Lorena reached into her handbag, a well-worn, unbranded black leather number, and retrieved a battered wallet. She placed it on the bar, counted her money, half out loud, put the money back in her wallet, and her wallet back in her handbag. “What does a gin fizz cost?” she asked the barman.
“Eighteen francs,” he replied.
“Then I’ve got enough for three.”
“If you have no objection,” Weynfeldt said, “then I can take care of the drinks.”
“No objection, but I still don’t want to drink more than I could pay for myself. An old single girls’ rule.”
“If it’s sensible I’ll have to think twice. ‘Sensible’ makes you look older. Will you order me another?”
Weynfeldt ordered a gin fizz.
“And a martini for the gentleman.”
The barman looked to Weynfeldt. He shrugged his shoulders and nodded.
“You don’t have to drink it,” Lorena said. “It’s okay for men to be sensible.”
“It doesn’t make us look older?”
“You’re already old.”
Weynfeldt kept Lorena company for four gin fizzes, his martini remaining untouched at his elbow. When she asked for a fifth, he insisted on accompanying her home, and ordered a taxi.
“Where are we going?” the driver asked Weynfeldt.
“Where are we going?” Weynfeldt asked Lorena.
“How should I know?” she replied.
“You don’t know where you live?”
“I don’t know where you live,” she said, her eyelids drooping.
And so for the first time in more years than he could remember, Adrian Weynfeldt returned home after midnight in female company. The security people would be amused when they came to watch the videos.
He opened the heavy door to the building, led Lorena in, and closed it behind him, keeping an eye on his guest, who seemed in danger of losing her balance at any moment. He took his magnetic ID card out of his wallet, pushed it into the slot next to the inner security door, led Lorena to the elevator, controlled by the same card, and rode to the third floor.
Weynfeldt’s apartment was in a nineteenth-century building in the center of Zurich’s financial district. He had inherited the building from his parents. While they were still alive a bank had taken out a lease on the ground floor, using three of the remaining four floors for their offices. The bank’s security measures were sometimes tiresome, but were ultimately in Weynfeldt’s interest as his apartment held a valuable collection of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Swiss art.
He ignored the bank’s repeated advances, luring him with suggestions of apartments in quieter districts so they could take over his floor too. Apart from his time at boarding school and his year in London, he had lived his entire life in this space. As a child he had slept in a room close to his parents; as he grew older he had moved farther toward the periphery of the apartment, which extended over five thousand square feet. While he was at university the servants’ quarters were converted into a separate apartment for him, and the housekeeper moved into one of the three guest rooms. Another guest room was soon occupied by the nurses looking after Weynfeldt’s father, who was homebound by the age of seventy-five.
His mother survived his father by nearly twenty years, which she also spent in the apartment, receiving round-the-clock care herself for the last four. Soon after her death Weynfeldt commissioned an architect from his circle of younger friends to refurbish the rooms from scratch. The old-fashioned bathrooms were transformed into superbly designed facilities, with sandblasted glass, darkened chrome and gray granite; the creaking walnut parquet was replaced with light oak; the walls and plasterwork were painted white or gray and the whole apartment was freed of the mustiness accumulated over the last hundred years.
Aside from a few special pieces, Weynfeldt put the furniture in storage and filled the rooms with his growing collection of 1920s-50s Swiss designer furniture.
This was the apartment into which he ushered the somewhat tipsy Lorena, who dropped her coat and handbag on the polished floor of the vestibule and said, “Wow!”
She said it a few more times during their tour of the rooms. “Wow! Like a museum.” And later, “Wow! You have all this to yourself?”
The inspection seemed to sober her up a little. In Weynfeldt’s study, a large room with a floor-to-ceiling window opening onto the rear courtyard, also added during the refurbishment, she asked, “and here?”
“Here is where I work.”
“What do you do?”
“I work for Murphy’s. I’m an expert in Swiss art.”
“What does that involve then?”
“Writing expert’s reports, supervising auctions, producing catalogues, that sort of thing.”
“No, it’s not.”
“That’s why you have all this art?”
“The other way round. The job is because of all the art.”
“Is there anything to drink in this palace?”
“I don’t believe you.”
“What would you like then?”
“Whatever you’re having.”
“Lemon verbena tea, it is.”
When he came back with the tray she had left the study. And wasn’t in any of the sitting rooms. He finally found her in his bedroom. She was lying in her panties and bra on his bed, apparently asleep.
Weynfeldt went into the bathroom, took a shower and put on clean pajamas. As he did every night. He owned fourteen pairs of pajamas, all tailored by his shirtmaker, all with monograms: six light-blue ones for the even days, six blue-and-white striped for the odd days and two for Sundays—one of the small quirks he allowed himself, providing his life with a little luxury and a little regularity. He believed that regularity prolonged life.
There was also the opposing theory: regularity makes each day indistinguishable, and the more events and habits are repeated, the more the days resemble each other and the years too. Till your whole life feels like one single year.
Weynfeldt didn’t believe this. If you do the same things more often, go to the same places and meet the same people, the differences become subtler each time. And if the differences are subtler then time passes unnoticed. Someone you see every month instead of every year never appears to age. And you never appear to age to them.
Repetition slows down the passage of time. Weynfeldt was absolutely convinced of this. Change might make life more eventful, but it undoubtedly made it shorter too.
He returned to his bedroom. Lorena was lying in the same position, on top of the duvet. He looked at her. She was very slim, a delicate build, almost too thin. Above her groin to the right was a small tattoo, perhaps a Chinese character. Her belly button was pierced, and it sparkled—a cut stone, glittering as Weynfeldt walked to the wardrobe to fetch another duvet. He lay down next to Lorena and covered them both.
“What about fucking?” she asked, drowsy.
“Tomorrow,” he said. “If you still want to.”
He turned the bedside lamp off.
She reached her hand out and let it fall on his chest, flat and lifeless. Her breathing soon became softer and regular.
Well done, Adrian, Weynfeldt thought, as he fell asleep.
Keep them talking. That was how they did it in the films Weynfeldt had seen, when police officers tried to stop people committing suicide. Or when mediators talked to kidnappers. Distracting them from carrying out their plan was half the battle. But he couldn’t think of anything to say. Like those dreams when you need to run but can’t move from the spot, he stood there, facing a woman about to kill herself, and said nothing.
Like the time nearly thirty years ago when Daphne had said, “I’m leaving now.” He hadn’t even been able to say Please don’t go, or No! Not even the one syllable, No. And she’d wanted him to say something; he’d sensed that. She had stood there with her suitcase and given him the chance to stop her.
Daphne was an exchange student at his university. He’d met her at an art history seminar. Everyone had fallen for her; why she’d picked him he would never know. When she returned to England he went with her, defying his parents’ objections—his father despairing, his mother enraged. They rented a small apartment in Chelsea and spent a year there, a year which grew happier in Weynfeldt’s memory with every year that followed.
He had never really understood why it ended. An argument, a slight tear in the fabric, a case of unfounded jealousy; he couldn’t reconstruct it, no matter how hard he tried. But he knew they’d still be together today if he’d managed to utter one single syllable.
He’d had to watch, speechless and immobile, as she left. Not resolute or angry, but despondent and hesitant. As if she were waiting till the last moment for him to stop her.
She had said she would have her things picked up in a few days. When they were still there a week later he started to get his hopes up. After ten days he called her parents. They told him that two days after she left him, she had been in a car crash. She had died on the spot.
Adrian saw the fists gripping the balustrade loosen their grip, the knuckles returning to the shade of the surrounding hands. Don’t do it, he wanted to say, Please, please don’t do it. Instead he just stood there, sensed the indifference his face conveyed, as unable to control this as his speechlessness. It was as if the paralysis which had gripped his tongue had spread to his entire face. As if the skin and muscles had gone limp and taken on an expression of horribly blasé indifference.
“You don’t give a fuck if I jump or not, do you?” she said.
Weynfeldt succeeded in raising his eyes and looking her in the face. Even now, in the unambiguous gray light of a Sunday morning, the similarity to Daphne was startling. This face held traces of resignation and lost illusions he had never seen in Daphne’s, not even on the day it all ended. And yet it was as if they had known each other for thirty years.
“You don’t give a fuck,” she repeated.
Now he managed to shake his head.
“It’ll be messy and bad for your reputation. And all the formalities with the police will be a drag of course. But other than that …” she released one hand from the balustrade and raised it in a gesture of apathy.
He stood there helpless. Like a stuffed dummy, his mother would have said. Then he shook his head once more.
She let her hand fall, but didn’t return it to the balustrade; she stretched it out behind her, and turned her face that way, as well, looking to the street below, leaning back, holding on with just one hand, like a trapeze artist receiving her applause. “Give me one reason not to let go. Just one reason.”
He felt his eyes fill with tears, his numbed face creasing up. A noisy sob burst from his chest.
The woman turned back in surprise and looked at this man in his white pajamas, crying. Then she climbed back onto the balcony, led Adrian back to bed, put her arm around him, and burst into tears herself.
“Haven’t you ever felt like that? That there’s no point in it all? You don’t know how you’re going to get through the next day? You can’t think of a single thing that doesn’t depress you? You can’t think of a single reason to carry on living, but lots of reasons to be dead? Have you really never had that?”
They were sitting in bed, the pillows shoved between their backs and the walls, a tray placed on the duvet, with reheated croissants, barely touched, soft glossy yellow butter, honey, and two empty cups with chocolate left around their rims, exhausted like a couple who have just had a big, dramatic argument that shook their relationship to its foundations.
Weynfeldt reflected. There were certainly days when he felt pretty gloomy, dwelt on dark thoughts and didn’t feel like doing a thing. But his only response was to end the day early. Not his life. “Karl Lagerfeld once said, ‘I try to categorize anything I experience which might be called depression as a bad mood.’ Sounds good to me.”
“If I had a life like Karl Lagerfeld or you I might be more attached to it!”
“What kind of life do you have then?”
“A shit life.”
“Every life is worth living.”
“What a load of crap.”
“A few years ago I went traveling through Central America. In a village somewhere—I’ve forgotten the name—the car broke down, something to do with the carburetor. It was pouring rain. A small, muddy track led off the highway, leading to a couple of huts made out of rough planks and corrugated iron. While my driver was fiddling around under the hood I waited in the car. I had the window half open—it was hot and sticky. A couple passed by, very young, almost children really. The man walked ahead, carrying a new-born baby in a cloth. The woman followed, pale, tired but smiling. They turned down the track leading to the huts. Their shoes sank into the mud. Then I heard her say, ‘Now our happiness is complete.’”
Lorena said nothing. When he looked at her again, after a while, there were tears in her eyes again. He pulled three tissues out of the box and passed them to her.
When she had blown her nose, she said, “Stories like that are no comfort at all. Stories like that are the last straw.” She got up, walked into the bathroom and stayed there a long time. He heard the toilet and the shower. When she emerged, she was wearing one of his dressing gowns, with the monogram A.S.W. It reached the floor, and she had rolled the sleeves up. “I have to go now.”
“I’ll come downstairs with you.” He went into the bathroom, from there to his dressing room. When he returned to the bedroom, fifteen minutes later, she had gone and the bed was made. She was waiting in the vestibule, sitting in a tubular steel chair, her coat already on. She looked at him quizzically. “You put a tie on just to take the elevator?”
They said nothing on the way down. He opened the double security doors for her, then the heavy front door to the street. They stood for a moment on the sidewalk, slightly embarrassed. Weynfeldt took out his wallet and gave her his card. “In case.”
“In case of what?”
“In case of whatever.”
She looked at the card. “Aha, You have a PhD I see,” she said, and put it in her handbag. “I’m afraid I don’t have a card myself.”
Weynfeldt wanted to ask for her telephone number, but he let it go.
She looked up at the gray sky. “The weather certainly wasn’t worth staying alive for.”
“What else then?”
He shrugged his shoulders. “There’s always something worth staying alive for.”
She stared at him intently. “Can you guarantee me that?”
She hugged him with her free arm and gave him a kiss on the cheek. Then she smiled at him. “One day I’ll do it.”
“No,” he said, “don’t do it.” Now he had managed to say the words.
“Lorena. You forgot my name: Don’t do it, Lorena.”
She walked down the street. He watched, but she didn’t look back.