Thriller & Suspense

Pink Panthers

By

This book will launch on Jul 27, 2020. Currently, only those with the link can see it. 🔒
Synopsis

Ocean's Eleven meets The Italian Job in this real-life story thriller about the infamous Pink Panthers gang of diamond thieves which has it all, shocking war and political drama, sweeping dialogue, dark humor, well-placed twists and flashbacks, and sufficient heist action scenes and crime thriller suspense to keep you constantly engaged.

A powerful blend of real-life situations and crime thriller. One elevates the other, making this novel's theme all the more important in today's world... In the end, you will wonder who are the real greatest thieves - diamond thieves or corporate and political elites? 

After the thieving team of the Pink Panthers successfully carried out diamond robberies in Antwerp, London, and Tokyo, they are recruiting an elegant logistics expert and a top make-up artist to prepare for the robbery at the Diamond Biennale in Paris. After successfully completing the job in Paris, they carry out two more spectacular robberies together, at the Amsterdam airport and in Saint Tropez, after which discord and attrition occur within the gang over the division of the loot. If there is no reconciliation, the rest of the gang is forced to forgather and train a new crew for another robbery, this time in Dubai.

Memories - Panthers’ calling












For the real Pink Panthers to be remembered… and to their curious fans who also smash and grab through life and dare to fight for their dreams too…


Foreword

AUTHOR’S NOTE

This novel is the first part of a trilogy that deals with the socio-historical context of emergence, rise, and (temporary) fall of the famous and powerful international robber group, Pink Panthers, created in the whirlwind of war during the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia. In close-up are the Pink Panthers characters, their principles, a system of work and organizational structure, tactical patterns of action and logistical processes, described through the example of adventures in preparing and carrying out robberies in Antwerp, London, Tokyo, Paris, Amsterdam, St. Tropez and Dubai. The light form of fiction and adventure drama shows correlation of organized crime, social anomalies, wars, and interests of the great who ruthlessly manipulate and destroy lives of the small, from individuals to nations. The background shows the entire process of the diamond business, how diamonds come to jewelry stores, from relentless exploitation of rich deposits of poor third-world countries and inciting bloody civil wars in them, to intertwining of the diamond business with drug cartels, human trafficking, interests of banks, corporate and military-industrial magnates and diplomatic-political machinations.

By personalizing the functioning of criminal cartels, the horror of war, the dissolving of country and family, and showing the results of these bold events have on individuals is the general theme I tried to dive into this novel. Humanizing and both warmly and humorously portraying its main characters, without relieving them from responsibility, the novel offers analytical portrait of people who had different plans for life and their future, which failed due to wars, a devastated economy, corruption, nepotism and societal moral collapse.

The second and third parts of the trilogy will show the further fate of the main characters, when some members of the group try to start a normal family life in a tragicomic way before returning to what they do best, while the others “re-specialize”.

Now, let’s have some fun – enjoy reading!


Preface

The first time I heard about the Pink Panthers I didn’t pay too much attention. I considered them yet another in a series of robbers who dare defy the society and its norms taking such risky steps. However, as time went on, I realized that all the risk that the Pink Panthers had invested in the robberies was very well calculated in the overall equation.

I don’t even have to mention that the locations chosen by the Pink Panthers sounded bombastic as if from the best Hollywood production. Paris, London, Amsterdam, St. Tropez! The ideas that the Pink Panthers introduced as a ‘patent’ in committing the robberies were more intriguing than even the greatest movie-minds could come up with. And I’m not just talking about disguising themselves as women, fleeing by speedboat and the like, but that all the robberies were committed without a single victim, and that’s what makes the Pink Panthers unique in the criminal world. With their imagination and extremely expressed audacity in carrying out their robberies, they left the world breathless, including me.

Nebojsa and I were obviously united by fate. Each in his own part of the world, we managed to find ourselves in the backwaters of the internet and at first, he tickled my curiosity. I wanted to read, I longed to find out how those glorious robberies took place, what went wrong and what went well. While reading this novel that you are holding in your hand, I felt the fears of the main characters, doubts, and, in the end, happiness. Yes, I was looking forward to it with them after the robberies and I wanted to drink a glass of champagne after reading the chapter on a ‘job well done’. We also cried together, digging through our memories when life brought them to their knees.

I will not lie. While editing this book, I laughed and cried, and also bit my nails in anticipation of what the next page would bring. And I can also say that I came out richer for a lot of information I didn’t know before. Today, in the age of the internet, it is hard to find.

Like this book.

A real rarity and enjoyment.

Editor, Zoran Cickaj


Acknowledgement

Thanks to all the supporters and the haters too - your energy fueled me to keep it up and don’t quit.

Special thanks to my editors Zoran Cickaj and Dijana Sajic, as well as Dijana Sajic for perfect translation from Serbian to English and DzinicDesign for a perfect cover page - you helped me to make this book better than I could have ever imagined.


Chapter 1

Memories - Panthers’ calling

(London – Graff 2003, Courchevel – Doux 2003, Tokio – Comtesse de Vendome, 2004)

Lost

May 2007

A dreadful scream broke out through the night.

Jumping up out of the field bed, Victor at first couldn’t even apprehend where he was. A cold night desert air and the swaying wall made up of a military tent reminded him of his current abode…

Grabbing a magazine from the nightstand, he rolled it while running and brandished it towards a small mouse that was frantically milling remains of food entangled in the thick, tufted, and fatty beard of the fat man lying on the bed next to his. The blow onto the little rodent was more than successful, he thought watching it fly across the empty bed and cram into the tent canvas, then, successfully getting its feet on the ground, it slipped away, scraping through the narrow space between the ground and the tent.

The sight of the leftovers of French fries and chicken bones around the fat man only made Victor more enraged. The fatty, still under the impression of having a rodent on himself, beat his beard frantically, clearing himself with funny flustered moves, resembling the best moments of Benny Hill Show.

“Didn’t I tell you last night that rodents are attracted to food scraps, thus not to bring food into the tent?” the quiet, threatening tone of his voice echoed in the fatty’s head worse than any dangerous predator’s shrieking.

“You did, I know, yes, you said, but …” the fat man was trying to avoid Victor’s glaring eyes, “…but you know I have a hard time trying to fall asleep. I’m having trouble sleeping.”

“Then read a book, count stars and you’ll fall asleep quickly. This theory of yours is just an excuse. What, like, you have to eat a ton of shit because you lose sleep over?”

“Well, when I’m nervous…I get hungry…and I can’t fall asleep when I’m hungry…” the fat man stuttered, not knowing where to look, “…so I lose sleepover.” He finally lifted his head and looked at him with his tiny shy eyes, squeezed by the greasy swollen face. A tiny chunk of chips persisted on the tip of his beard and he couldn’t resist it, but grabbed it and swallowed it faster than a pelican would catch a fish.

“Man, no one forbids you to eat, just don’t eat in the tent… and clean up this crap behind you.” Victor looked at him with disgust, then turned on his heel and left the tent.

The fresh night air surged him over.

The silence and gloomy darkness made him look up into the sky and he was stunned to see the countless glittering stars in the sky above the Arabian Desert. As wide as his gaze was reaching, the stars in clusters glittered at each other. At that moment, he realized that he had never seen anything like this in his life. To make the experience complete, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes lighting one, never taking his eyes off the sky. The soothing component of a cigarette directed his thoughts to all the events that brought him to where he was now. To die-hard Baghdad desert boondocks.

Friends and associates

2006

On a sunny afternoon in the peak of autumn, in the shade beneath the walls of a historic fortress in a small rustic Italian town, Victor sat on a small cafe balcony, enjoying morning coffee with a beautiful blond with nice curves. They did not talk much but rather enjoyed the slow but lively life of the small town, which was transfusing through its small narrow streets. The relaxation, as they made the most of it, was comforting to every atom of his body.

Taking the last sip of coffee, he rose in a good old fashion, while his companion decided to read the daily newspaper. Despite the holidays, he could not afford to neglect the job. He walked the easy step to a nearby internet cafe, where they had already got accustomed to his face, so he sat down in the farthest corner, his favorite.

Opening Gmail, he typed in a username, PPanther, and then the password.

Gmail does its thing right away and the email display opens. There were no new emails in the inbox, but he didn’t expect them either, as the inbox was always completely empty. He clicked on Drafts, where he saw only one message with the caption: FinRep-At-Lady’s-Confirmations? The text of the email was scarce, consisting of only five abbreviations.

Gr-?

Jc-?

Jo-?

Vc-?

He deleted the question mark behind Vc and typed Ok.

After opening a new window in the browser, he searched the AirItalia website and booked a ticket for tomorrow’s flight from Milan to Antwerp in a few steps. He returned to the Drafts and in addition to the inscribed Ok, he added tomorrow’s date.

He completed a careful logout from the Gmail and, after paying the bill, walked out into the already sun-bathed streets, hurrying to rejoin his beautiful girl as soon as possible. Before he sat down at the table, he hugged her and ordered two more coffees and lemonades.

“I have to go to Belgium tomorrow, to Antwerp.”

“You do? What is it all at once about?” the blonde wondered.

“Fuck it, business as usual. Do you want to come with me?” he asked with one of those irresistible smiles she loved.

She moved her chair closer to him and hugged him.

“You know I can’t. Tomorrow is my first day of practical training,” she said, then kissed him gently, arousing his manhood.

The church bell began to ring for ten o’clock, and he felt happy in that romantic moment in the sun and in the hands of the beautiful girl.

The rest of the day was the only thing they were left with, and they made the most of it, wrestling under sheets in a small luxury hotel, while in the evening, the restaurant food refreshed their body and soul. The very next morning he woke up alone in bed and as he was getting ready for the trip, yesterday seemed like a good dream.

Not disregarding the routine, after a morning coffee at the same place, he went to a nearby internet cafe, where he was pleasantly surprised to open Gmail and read Ok instead of all question marks that were there yesterday. On his way out, he logged out of Gmail, paid the bill, and stopped the first taxi he encountered on the street.

“Alla Stazione Ferroviaria, per favore,” Victor said after sitting in the back seat, seeing the driver nodding in the rearview mirror.

Armed with patience, he waited for his turn to buy a fast train ticket to Milan, which was scheduled to depart in half an hour. Although it was a two-hour ride by train, he could not force himself to close his eyes. The adrenaline that was awakened in him by the very act of traveling hardly managed to dim. His eyes flicked over the faces of people coming down and entering the oncoming stations, managing to spot a few good specimens of the female population, and one of them seemed to smile back at him.

The train entered Milan Central Station on time as scheduled. He stepped out of the train among the last passengers, admiring the high-set glass vault that covered all platforms. He quickly glanced at his watch and realized he had two hours left until his flight. While on the move, he changed his plan and decided to switch to local train platforms where, very easily, following signs, he found an express train to Malpensa Airport. He bought a one-way ticket from one of the ticket vendors and waited for ten minutes before the express train rolled onto the platform. He has always preferred public transportation over using taxis, because any taxi driver is rarely likely to forget the faces of the people he drives, and this was not acceptable to a person of his occupation. Meticulous and systematic as he was, he always thought of every potential unpleasant possibility. The wagon door closed and, after six stations counted, he exited at the Airport Terminal 1.

Glancing at his watch, he had enough time to check in on a flight to Antwerp. With only one small bag in hand, there was no need to check-in any luggage, so he headed straight through the security check and after a leisurely stroll, he found his gate to board the Alitalia flight. Stepping on the bridge to the plane, he listened to the sound of the engine, which has always had some calming effect on him.

Before the plane started sliding to the runway, Victor was already sinking into a slight snooze, rocked by the sound of the plane engine.

In the afternoon, after a coffee and a sandwich offered by an eye-pleasing flight attendant, the plane landed at the Antwerp Airport and after a routine passport check at customs, he took the first free cab.

“To the HotelO Antwerpen Cathedral, please.” Victor settled down comfortably, watching Antwerp and its streets for the next twenty minutes or so.

The 100-meter-tall church tower belonging to the Notre Dame Cathedral caught all of his attention, forcing him to stop and admire that lavish beauty for a few moments. Eventually, he realized that he had not come to Antwerp to admire edifices of the past, so he made his way across the central square, avoiding groups of tourists, and after only a hundred meters, to the right of the cathedral, he saw HotelO, which was ultimately his goal. A hotel of an average height of only a few floors, typical Belgian architecture combined with a black and white facade, did not make a significant impression as the cathedral did moments ago.

In the hotel lobby, he made his way to the right, heading for the well-known conference room destination at the end of the hall, where he immediately spotted a distinct brunette sitting on one of the leather armchairs in the corner and headed directly towards her.

Recognizing him at once, she stood up and hugged him as cordially as ever, and they kissed each other on the cheek.

“Beautiful and elegant, as always.” Victor smiled at her and little blush on her cheeks looked very likable to him.

“A gentleman as always,” she said, smiling.

To his right, he saw a tall, broad-shouldered man standing by the bookshelf and newspapers, and, letting her hands go for a moment, stepped toward him and hugged him tightly like a brother, they tapped one another on the shoulders.

“So where have you been, Jolly. See what you look like,” Victor’s smile didn’t come off his face.

“How the hell do I look like?”

“Well,” Victor chuckled, managing to catch Jolly’s smile, then turned to the lady in the corner.

“And you Jacqueline, darling, what part of the planet are you coming from this time? Africa, Asia?”

Jacqueline smiled sweetly. “From Asia.”

“What about you?” Victor turned to Jolly.

“From Italy,” Jolly replied, then he took a magazine and began reading it again.

“Whoa! For the second time in a row?” Victor grinned. “Any kind of engagement plan soon, huh?”

Jolly smiled cheerfully at the provocation. “Victor, the man with a plan… ever since. You even plan your night dreams in advance,” Jolly said and looked at him sharply, though he was smiling, his voice tone was undefined.

The waiter interrupted the scene, carrying a piece of nice cake on a platter, serving it in front of Jacqueline. The waiter couldn’t help noticing a smile on Victor’s face.

“So, what kind of cake did you order?” Victor asked her.

“A cherry chocolate cake. Why do you ask? Do you want one too?”

Victor had a sweet laugh and looked at Jolly.

“Hey, maybe these are the cherries from the old Adjia’s garden? You know he had emigrated to Belgium during the war, maybe he planted it here too?”

Jolly cheerfully fought with himself for a few seconds not to laugh, but he couldn’t stand it. They both laughed out loud, leaving Jacqueline looking puzzled at them. The laughter faded, and Jolly couldn’t resist remembering how he and Victor met each other owing to cherries.

Little boys’ play

1984

From his earliest age, Jolly was dubbed as a bad boy. Strong and fearless, he naturally imposed himself as the group leader of street kids who had always been blamed for all the dregs in the neighborhood. With each spring fruit trees blossoming, this little gang meant headache for the neighborhood, as they browsed budding fruit off their twigs.

Although there was never a shortage of food or fruit at home, particularly in the bowl in the living room, the very engaging in theft of neighborhood fruits was more important than the booty itself. That urge and excitement of fruits picked from a neighbor’s garden, lavishing it in his bosom, were unmatched by the world’s most beautiful and exotic fruit in the living room of his home.

So, on a spring day, during their school recess, he tried with his friends to devise a way for them to get cherries from the old Adjia’s yard.

“We looted everything else but his orchard! The old Adjia is a tough one, and he will hit hard if necessary”. Jolly looked at the faces of his mates around him. “And his cherries are getting redder and sweeter with each day”. Jolly unconsciously licked his lips, imagining those cherries juicy and sweet.

“What can we do when his house is at the end of a dead-end street,” someone in the group tried to justify their failure. “There’s no other way to get to the orchard behind the house. Every time we went past the house and the yard, the old asshole would spot us and clobber us.”

“And why don’t you come to the orchard from another direction?”

All the heads turned toward the voice and Jolly noticed a small, brown-haired and skinny boy. All he knew about him was that he had only recently moved to the settlement and that he had had very little or almost nothing to say during their classes.

“There is no road behind the orchard but a steep slope leading to the wall above the hospital,” the same boy from the group replied.

The brown-haired boy broke a twig from a tree beside them and joined the group of guys, kneeling on the freshly dug earth from which a young tree grew.

In a few quick moves, the brown-haired boy drew up a plan that Jolly immediately recognized as the home of old Adjia and the surrounding area.

“If we walk through this courtyard in the upper street next to the fence of the electricity distribution facility, we can reach the fence of the adjacent house from the street above his, and then, while hanging on the fence, we can reach the back fence of his yard without being noticed,” he said with a smug smile, strikingly confident about the success of his plan.

“Maybe it could work,” Jolly grimly stared at the rough sketch of the plan. “Only, you’ve overlooked the fact that the old man is always either in the shed behind the house or in the dining room, and from either, he has a view of the orchard. That’s how he always noticed us when we went into action”.

“There’s a time when he is neither in the shed nor in the dining room,” the smile has never quit the brown-haired boy’s face.

“When?!” everyone asked excitedly at the same time.

“Sunday evening at eight o’clock. At that time, the whole family is watching the TV series in the living room in the other part of the house.”

“And how do you know that?” Jolly asked.

“His wife aunt-Biba called my parents for a welcoming visit when we moved here. We were there just on a Sunday evening. They’ve just started watching the series when we arrived, and his wife said they never missed a single episode. I yawned from boredom outside in the yard until nine when the old man came out after the episode ended.”

“Well, when you were already in the yard, didn’t you try the cherries?!” the blond boy from the group yelled.

The brown-haired boy grinned from ear to ear. “You’ve tried nothing so sweet and juicy in your life.”

The guys in the group chuckled, each one imagining them so sweet-n-juicy in their mouths.

“Then what do you say that we meet in the street above the electric facility at half-past seven this Sunday?” Jolly asked. Everyone nodded, agreeing with Jolly when the piercing sound of the school bell called for the end of the recess.

Jolly reached out to the brown-haired boy to help him stand up, considering him one of them.

“I’m Jolly.”

“Victor.”

They both laughed as they shook hands and then walked toward the others.

On Sunday, punctual like clockwork and armed with desire for the forbidden cherries, everyone gathered in the street at half-past seven in the evening, and slowly, using the outside fences of the electricity distribution facility and the adjacent house from the upper street, they descended to the orchard of old Adjia. In a few quick steps, they found themselves by the orchard fence, and Jolly, as a true leader, hopped the fence first and ran quietly to the shed, checking if it was empty. He turned to the others and waved them to join him, and then in just three steps, he was already at the tree branch and chopping cherries off.

Wasting no time, Victor and the other guys ran to the tree and climbed on it skillfully like panthers. The blond boy, who was the smallest in the group, was left to keep watch and tell if the old man peeks out of the dining room.

The four of them could not resist the charms of sweet fruit on the tree, and besides filling their mouths with red cherries, they also shoved into their bosoms in their shirts.

The rapture and call of that beautiful were overwhelming and the blond boy couldn’t resist. Returning to the tree, he picked the cherries he could reach from the ground, shoving some into his shirt, forgetting about keeping an eye on the possible threat from the house.

Enchanted by fruit, all five of them did not notice the old man as he walked across the dining room to the toilet, using a commercial break to ease himself. He opened the door abruptly, and the blond boy in charge of the guard heard late the danger coming.

“The old man! Run!”

Agile as cats, the guys climbed down from the tree in the blink of an eye. Victor couldn’t help looking at the old man, noticing an ax in his hand. More than ever, he wanted to fly faster than the wind. He was just behind Jolly when the ax zipped past his head and stopped at the tree. If only he had been a second slower, he knew it would have hooked him. Adrenaline rushed him faster up the hilly narrow path they had used to come in. Loud profane curses seemed so close to him. He had a feeling that if he stopped, he would be caught and killed by beating. Racing up, he overtook Jolly, and as they climbed uphill behind each other, the slippage of stones attracted his attention. He turned his head and saw Jolly in distress as he stumbled, sliding his foot down the yard against the hospital wall. Grasping his arm and thigh, he brought him back out of the abyss into safety. Breathless and tired, they reached the safety of their neighborhood on the other side of the hill, laughing like crazy, still adrenaline-fueled. Sitting on the steps of a building at the corner of two streets, they felt safe. Finally, when he caught his breath a little, Victor’s eyes looked for the so-called guard.

“Okay, why didn’t you keep watch on the old man?!” Victor shouted.

All eyes were pointed on the guard.

“Well, I kept…I did,” the blond boy murmured.

“I saw, like hell you kept watch! Almost got the old man hitting me with an ax!” Victor yelled, no longer sparing him the reproach.

Jolly left the cherries he had taken under his shirt and prepared to swallow and hugged both of them.

“Come on, calm down. All went well, and that’s the most important thing. We have our loot, more than enough, and the old man can only hang himself at his cherry … We’ve had it whole swept off,” Jolly’s laughter, when sincere, was more than contagious. The discomfort disappeared as wind-blown, and all of them together began guzzling the cherries. The words disappeared; there was only the sound of their thudding mouths.

April 2004

“Why didn’t you put someone to keep watch in front of the store?”

Jolly laughed at Victor’s question about the guard, remembering their childly ‘action’ twenty years ago.

Drinking his third whiskey in a row on the balcony of Victor’s café, Jolly enjoyed every moment of the beauty brought by the spring. The chirping from the tree crowns shading over Victor’s balcony was the most beautiful tune his ears could hear.

“Three of us were scheduled to go into action,” Jolly said, returning to the conversation with Victor. “Nesho and I did the robbery, and Milan oversaw logistics, securing the lodging and so on. He was waiting for us in a side alley on a used Piaggio scooter he had previously purchased in Isleworth, west London. Milan did not participate directly in the robbery as we needed him to take the booty over after the robbery, while after the handover, the two of us would continue on foot each on our way, one towards Hyde Park and the other towards Buckingham Palace. The deal was to meet Milan at the apartment in Bayswater.” Jolly went silent, waiting for the waitress to serve them another coffee, so when she got far enough, he continued. “The day before the heist, I walked down that same street and there was no security guard outside. I estimated that two men were enough with a third one to convey the loot. The next day after the robbery, we all part our ways. Nesho by plane from Luton to Zurich, and me by train to Paris after I hand the booty over at an agreed place.”

“Wait, so you don’t take the booty with you but hand it over right away?” Victor asked, wishing he could understand all the facts.

“Immediately after the robbery, I get rid of the clothes worn that day and leave the booty at the agreed place, as I told you before. So, I’m leaving empty-handed from London, after the handover, my links to the robbery are cut off and as far as I’m concerned the job is done.”

“And how is it inside? You’d just rush in and smash everything and grab the loot?” Victor asked, eager for details.

“It doesn’t work just like that,” Jolly grinned, sipping coffee. “Nesho entered the Graff jewelry store first, wearing an Elvis wig, which stuck out amazingly on his head. Fortunately, this is not uncommon in London, as many celebrities like to disguise themselves to avoid public hysteria on the street. The forecast for that week was constant raining, ideally, to hide a revolver in an umbrella he carried in his hand. The initial goal is always to relax sellers so they would be showing us the jewelry they have on offer. The day before, he had arranged to be shown that day a twelve-carat diamond ring of $ 450,000. He demurred looking at it, describing it as too glamorous, and then he asked the key question.”

“Which one?” Victor asked, fully focused on the story.

“Do you have a smaller one? It was a sign of action. He pulled out a chromed Magnum.357 and, threatening everyone in the shop, he forced them to lie down on the floor. I took out a hammer and a larger bag from a small Hermes bag broke a few targeted showcases with the hammer and picked up forty-seven pieces of diamond jewelry. The job was done in an instant, and we ran out into the street together, but then a security guard came out of nowhere throwing himself abruptly at him, trying to hijack his gun, which fired during their wrestling at the air conditioner on the wall. The bullet probably bounced off the air conditioner because it knocked over a woman across the street, who fell and screamed as if being slaughtered. I noticed this out of the corner of my eye while I was running down the street, as I was convinced that he was right behind me, but when the gun fired, I turned around and realized I was alone. The woman was lying in pain in the street, and the security guard managed to overcome him.”

“Why didn’t you come back to help him?”

“Victor, that happens only in the movies… in real life, there is no emotion in this business, no coming back, no help. He was hired to be an armed force, my job was to smash the showcases, pick up jewelry, and hand over the loot, which I loaded into Milan’s backpack as soon as I reached the side street. He was waiting for me there, with the engine running, and as soon as I closed his backpack, he disappeared at full throttle. Everyone has to do their part without emotion and without any change in the plan.”

“So, you and Milan got away with it, and this one was fucked.”

“Milan was also arrested.”

Victor frowned. “Wait, didn’t you say…”

“Milan made a big mistake, unforgivable one,” Jolly interrupted him. “He took a diamond ring and gave it to his fiancée, telling her not to show it or speak of it to anyone, but of course she immediately boasted to a fellow-waitress at work. It did not take long before a story was shared of a poor student of modern design going around with such a ring, obtained from her fiancé, an unemployed failed student with an expired visa. The story spread like a street fire, it sure reached the ears of snitches who blew the whistle to the police, who consequently raided Milan’s apartment within two days. They found the ring hidden in a face cream jar in the bathroom as it was in that movie. That’s where all that media fame and the nickname came from,” Jolly said, taking the last sip of whiskey, still angry about Milan’s stupidity.

“Fuck, maybe he thought he wasn’t getting paid enough for the job, so he thought maybe he could earn something from the sidelines,” Victor shrugged, trying to grasp the situation from Milan’s position.

“You’re wrong, bro,” Jolly shook his head. “You see, precious stones in the hands of ordinary mortals are not worthy at all, because we cannot sell it for the same amount. On top of that, it’s a closed circuit, and as soon as he would try to sell them, he would be busted – immediately. On my part I explain it to them every time before a robbery; you always have a fool who thinks he can do something on his own. You must understand one thing. Diamonds are high in price just because big dealers have a monopoly on the market. By keeping the offer low, they artificially keep the price high. Diamonds are not rare at all. Up to a hundred years ago, they were much less valuable because they had been found in more places than ever before. That’s why traders have come up with the concept that diamonds are rare, and as soon as something is missing in every corner, its price rises automatically. These traders control the mines and buy all the diamonds in the world and carry them to their extremely well-guarded containers where they are treated and locked up. The concept of an engagement diamond ring originated in the diamond industry and they are the ones who invented the motto ‘if the ring did not cost an entire month’s pay, it means he doesn’t love you’. In the USA, this is worth two monthly salaries. Don’t think I’m trying to justify what I do, but if things were set up as they should really be, diamonds wouldn’t cost more than a few hundred dollars… and I’d have to be robbing something else.”

Victor looked at him with raised eyebrows. “Fascinating. And tell me, where do you find your collaborators? Aren’t you afraid that they would sing if got caught?”

“I find them everywhere. A lot of them come on their own and offer their services to me. As soon as they see what kind of car I drive, how I live stress-free, always full of money, they literally come up to me and ask if there’s any work for them. After all, that’s how I met Nesho. He worked as a janitor at a hospital in Zurich for eleven years. He complained to me that he was full of cleaning their Swiss shit. Milan is a failed student whose visa has expired, he dares not go back to his father’s sight out of fear, as his father has mortgaged his shop to have his son educated in London looking up to some neighbor politicians. Finally, to speak honestly, what could they say about me? That they met a charming stranger whose real name they didn’t know, who promised them a nice sum of money for the job they did. The only thing they can sing to the cops is my fake name Marko and the phone number of a room in a Parisian suburb with a senile landlady that I have never returned to.”

“Why did you hit Graff exactly, why that jewelry store?” Victor took a sip of coffee then cleared his throat with strong but high-quality whiskey.

“For the sake of prom” Jolly smiled.

“What kind of promotion are you talking about, man?” Viktor asked, joining him in a giggle.

“Many elite jewelers like Graff, Chopard, and Harry Winston are on this section of New Bond Street, just a few blocks north of Buckingham Palace. The instructions I received were to attack one of those three stores as these had just refilled their stocks and hand over the booty at an agreed place after the job was done. Of those three, Graff is the most famous one. Fuck, they even bitch about themselves and advertise that they sell the most beautiful diamonds in the world. And their client list will make you fall on your ass. Oprah Winfrey and David Beckham are regular customers. A few days before the job, I went to visit Graff and the security seemed very weak to me. At the entrance, I was greeted by a security guard who did not ask me if I had an appointment or have a peek into the leather bag I was carrying on my shoulder. You must understand that extreme security measures cause discomfort in wealthy clients. So, the decision easily fell to Graff, and I would rather have Chopard and Harry Winston done in Paris anyway. Their shops are far richer over there.”

Victor stared off into the distance thoughtfully, spinning everything he heard in his head. The sunshine reflection on the metallic black Mercedes 500SL parked in front of the patio caught his attention and admiration.

Victor took a sip of his coffee. “I knew exactly that something had changed in your business. You used to come here in nice cars, but something like this, such a beast has never been seen in this area. No news from you for many months, no courier to bring me those fancy clothes and suits, no new goods to move, I knew exactly that you were throwing yourself into something bigger, but…,” Viktor laughed briefly, shaking his head, “… I’d never have thought of what you’ve just told me. I mean, this is a really big deal, you’re robbing jewelry worth millions of euros. Only, I would still do some things differently.”

“For example?” Jolly leaned closer, cocking his ears.

“Let’s say guns for the beginning. I would have planned it in more detail without weapons. You could use plastic guns that look like real ones. This is why this colleague of yours will get at least fifteen years of jail time for armed robbery. If he’d had a plastic toy instead it would’ve been a completely different story and, above all, a woman was injured during the robbery. Real fucking bad luck, if you ask me.”

“Yes, brother, but I want them to be scared and do what I tell them to, not to laugh at me,” Jolly said.

“Thoughts determine emotions and actions,” Victor said.

“What?” Jolly asked, looking at him as if he went crazy.

Victor stood up without saying a word and went to his car, picked up a gift bag from his trunk, and went back to the table. He quickly pulled a revolver from his gift bag and pointed it at Jolly’s face, who instinctively moved away from the table, raising his hands: “Hey! Get it away from me! What the fuck?”

“Thoughts determine actions. This powerful idea goes thousands of years back to Marcus Aurelius who said that we were not disturbed by the things that were happening, but by our own judgment about them. Feelings depend on thoughts. If I think you pointed a gun at my face, I’m afraid. If I realize that the gun is actually a water gun, I no longer feel scared. Thoughts determine feelings. And you’ve, my friend just shitted yourself over a plastic gun I bought as a gift for my nephew’s birthday.”

Jolly laughed, then backed away, looking behind Victor, who had not missed that sudden change.

Turning his head, he saw the person who had interrupted their conversation.

“Oh, Mr. Inspector. Welcome.”

“Hello, Mr. Victor. Didn’t we agree last time that you should remove the patio? You do not have all the necessary permits and by holding this balcony bar lounge open you’re breaking the law and I’m forced to write you another fine this very moment.”

Jolly stared at the man in a dark business suit, who held the briefcase tightly in his hand as if it was full of state secrets. The very appearance of that kind of person stirred up anger in him.

“So, if I remove the balcony, where are you going to sit down to write my sentence, wretched inspector?” Victor said, laughing all the time. “This way, you can sit nicely on the balcony, have a coffee, here, now Ana will make you one, she already knows what you are having, and then you will nicely write the report for your master and that fine for me. Come on, sit down in the corner of the balcony, and don’t bother me while I’m talking to a friend.”

“Mr. Victor, I hate to come here and issue these fines, but under Article 3, Paragraph 2…”

“Hey, just go down to the corner, sit down and stop being such a drag. Write whatever you want!” Viktor shouted, turning to his friend, and then removed a bottle of whiskey from the ice kibble, pouring one more round for both of them.

Jolly looked at him inquiringly, looking at the businessman as he sat at a remote table.

“Well, the President’s son wants this place. I got stuck with these inspectors, they send me one inspection after another,” Victor replied, catching his inquiring look. “They abducted everyone’s real estate around me, but they can’t do anything to me. I have a firm contract with the owner of this house who’s in America. They want to chase me out and build a skyscraper, like everywhere else. Buildings are being built all around, growing like mushrooms, we have little to no place to park our cars anymore.”

Jolly played with a glass, spinning it in place. “You see, that’s why I told you all this. You should not be with these crooks here, man. You’ve always been a worldly man, intelligent.” Jolly gulped and then continued. “Remember when you came to see me and pick up those Bogner goods, when I wanted to get that oil magnate’s daughter laid, so we went to the winery near Trento of her old man, a Mason?”

Victor laughed. “Not a Mason, but a Rotarian.”

“All right, the same shit. While I was sweating being nervous, looking at those fancy 5 sets of dishes in front of us on the table, you were relaxed, discussing worldly affairs with her family. You see, you’ve always stood out.” Jolly poured whiskey into their glasses and continued. “Well… so, it would be a good idea for you to get out of here… and to work with me. I need a guy with style without a criminal record so he can easily move from job to job, who will help me with planning and reconnaissance, who is not greedy and most importantly… whom I can trust, and you have all those qualities.”

“Not being greedy yet doing robbery?” Victor said wryly.

“Greedy in a sense that you don’t do anything on your own, like that guy Milan did in London. If he hadn’t taken any jewelry out of the bag and had given me the whole loot as directed, he would’ve never been found with any evidence and caught. Look, this is a serious combination, all the jobs are pre-arranged… once we get the exact target and the goal of the robbery, it’s only our task to execute it. The booty is left in a pre-arranged place and there is no risk.” Jolly paused, gulping whiskey. “I mean, fuck, there’s always a risk, but working it this way, it’s minimized. Recently, I lost one of my best guys just because he wanted to get independent.”

“What happened?”

“He and two of his associates robbed Doux, a jewelry store in Courchevel, a French ski resort, and as far as the plan is concerned, one really can’t make a remark. They were dressed in ski jackets with wool hats and sunglasses on their heads, just like real tourists. They rushed into the store through the back door at ten in the morning as two shopkeepers exhibited collections of watches and gems on shelves. They threw both on the floor, handcuffed them, and put sticky tape over their mouths. Everything went perfectly well, they disappeared before the robbery was revealed, but the problem arose the next day. In the neighboring Alpine town of Albertville, he raised suspicion with a transit officer because he was buying a train ticket with a five hundred euro note. HEEEY, 500!? Surveillance cameras also revealed his bag left on a platform, and when checked it was full of stolen jewels, watches, two tear gas cans, and a Serbian passport in the name of Milan Kilibarda, a passport we had processed for him a year ago. As you can see, looting is the easier part of the job, but what about the booty transfer afterward? I planned him for this job in London, he’s very skilled with weapons. It certainly wouldn’t happen to him to get detained by a guard. But fuck, even the most competent may fall.”

Victor shook his head. “I don’t know,” he said and looked at him thoughtfully. “I’ve always been just a fence moving goods. I’ve never participated in boosters. My job is just to sell them later.”

“What did you do on the battlefield in the military and later for the UN?” Jolly asked him, frowning.

“Computing and logistics planning in the military. Then a translator for the UN, but I also did logistics and planning. Every six months there was a rotation shift of these foreign officers and then the newcomers come to me, and I would organize them.”

“There, you see,” Jolly laughed. “You would work on logistics and planning in our business too, the same work, only for a different company… with a better salary though.”

Victor laughed along with Jolly, especially about the possibility of a better salary.

“After this last job in Tokyo, I was told that no one would be above me anymore. From now on I have complete freedom in organizing and executing, they will just give me a target,” Jolly said proudly.

“And what was that job in Tokyo?” Victor asked after the laughter had subsided. “Who did you do this job with?”

“I didn’t do it at all.”

“Why?”

“Because they also chose a raspberry grower from Arilje. Listen to this, and he wanted to take a mistress. Isn’t it weird that the largest jewel robbery in the history of Japan involves a raspberry grower from a small Serbian city of Arilje? The argument that anonymous people without a criminal record will easily cross borders does not surpass my personal background check or lack of experience. When I met them, they made a bad impression and I listened to my own instinct and gave it up. Sometimes it’s better to give up a job than take a risk, particularly if you feel it’s not worth it. Besides, I’ve never worked in Asia. I prefer to have an option of escaping by car, bus, or train, which is why I work in Europe, I feel safer. That doesn’t mean I never will, but it was out of the question this time.”

“But they did a good job as far as I can remember. All the media was chattering about the robbery of that famous necklace,” Victor said.

“Nobody disputes that the robbery was done without a fault. They arrived in Japan in late February 2004, two weeks before the robbery. Three of them, the two love birds, and my replacement, traveled with valid Czech and Croatian passports. The organizer had flown in a day earlier. She provided hotel rooms and cell phones for each member of the group. On February 24, the raspberry grower made his first visit to a Maki jeweler, whom he would rob ten days later. He asked the seller to take him to the second floor and show him the famous Comtesse de Vendome necklace, which was heavily secured, in a glass case with a state-of-the-art alarm system. Then, a few days later, the raspberry guy comes again, but this time with the mistress and besides sightseeing, they bought a necklace and a silver spoon. Eventually, the time for action came, and on March 5, masked by wigs and dark glasses, the two entered the store and one of them asked the seller to buy some gold items, knowing that the seller will have to go to the storage room for the required goods. The raspberry guy seizes the moment and asks the other salesman to take him to the second floor and show him his necklace. As the raspberry guy and the seller climbed the stairs, the other one stayed downstairs near the exit, looking out on the remaining two vendors. When the raspberry guy came upstairs, he pulled out a sheet of paper and leaned over the cabinet, writing something down. Of course, this aroused suspicion in the salesman and when he leaned down to see what he was writing, the raspberry guy struck him with his fist and sprayed him with tear gas. He started hitting the seller in the head and forced him to a nearby toilet, the last thing the salesman heard was breaking of glass. When he woke up, it was already late. The raspberry guy and the other dude were already gone with a $ 33 million necklace.”

“But where did they screw up in the end?” Victor asked.

“When I talked to the investor and the organizer, what I said to them now I am saying to you, which is that I never stir emotions in this business. I do not take any girls or mistresses while preparing or doing work. I only eat fast food, no food leftovers behind. I don’t drink anything from glass cups. I try not to leave any traces behind me, unlike the raspberry guy and his mistress, who shagged like rabbits in a hotel for ten days and left the number of DNA tracks behind,” Jolly pulled a cigarette out of the pack and leaned closer to Victor while lighting it. “But it doesn’t matter now. From now on, it’s only me who manages future operations. They have withdrawn and will no longer participate directly, except to provide information about the target. Everything else is my concern.”

“They… who are they?” Victor asked in a quieter voice.

“They? These are the organizers and investors. Their requirements are that the preparation, logistics, manner, and speed of the execution of the robbery be carried out at a professional level, with military discipline and precision, and that the perpetrators had not previously come into conflict with the law. We will have a budget of three hundred thousand dollars per job, plus ten percent of the estimated value of the loot, which we get upon completion of the work, of course. We share the aforementioned three hundred thousand with assistants, but only you and I share the ten percent of the value of the booty afterward,” Jolly said, leaning closer. “I need your analytics and elegance because this concept of daily reconnaissance of elite snobby jewelry stores makes me nervous, and you… well, you need to get away from here. I’m not calling you coincidentally, I’ve been thinking about this for some time and I need help – you know I’m used to working at night, I observe the targets during the day and come and do the work in the evening, and I can’t do this with these jobs – for example, the next target is some business fair of diamond dealers in Paris, and I honestly have no idea how to do this job in a broad daylight in a business hall with a thousand people.” Jolly moved away and shook off the ashes of a nearly burned cigarette. “Think about it, you don’t have to answer me right away.”

Jolly took the glass and quaffed all the whiskey and pulled away from the table. “I have to go to the toilet.”

Getting up from his chair, he stepped over the balcony and stopped next to the corner table, just above the inspector. He reached over the Inspector’s shoulder and extinguished the cigarette embers on the fine form he was filling out, startling him with his gesture. He looked up haggardly and shuddered from a smile beneath Jolly’s terrifying eyes.

“Pardon me, inspector, do go on, please”. Keeping a sinister smile on his face, Jolly left the cigarette butt on the paper and walked calmly toward the toilet.

Sloughing

2006

That evening at the meeting in Antwerp, in 2006, Victor sat at the table across his visibly nervous friend. The firm, yet not disagreeable assertiveness and bright eyes, the traits that adorned Jolly, his childhood friend, and common-work partner, disappeared as if they had never existed. Nervously flipping through a magazine, which at no point caught his attention, he perturbed Victor too, who was watching him quietly. Bloodshot eyes, haggard look, and sweat drops on his forehead displayed some new man Victor has never known.

“It can’t be like this anymore,” Jolly said, bringing Victor back to reality from his thoughts.

“What can’t be?”

“I say it doesn’t work like this anymore. As soon as he comes today, I’ll tell him everything,” Jolly said, wiping the sweat from his forehead.

“Okay, but be a little clearer. What exactly can’t go on like this anymore?” Victor asked, suddenly feeling as taut as a bowstring.

Jolly was just about to say something when suddenly Green rushed in like a whirlwind without knocking. Impeccably dressed in elegant clothes, Green reminded Victor of a middle-aged Hollywood star, not of a cold-blooded criminal he actually was at his core. Green was black-haired, tough, rugged, yet masculine, with his strong shoulders and strong facial features and cocked jaws, and with his confident appearance and glowing eyes, he radiated supremacy and fear.

Saying short hello to everyone, Green laid down his black leather bag on the table and, as usual, pulled out bundles of money notes. Victor did not expect anything more knowing Green, who did not prefer formal talks. He would usually pay them out what was due to them for the job that they had done and explain the next mission if it had been specified meanwhile.

On the table, Green splits the money into four equal parts and places one plastic bag at the end of each stack of notes.

“As we agreed, the booty of 8 million Euros, 10% of that in four parts, amounts to 200 thousand Euros each,” said Green, pleased with how nicely he put the notes on the table.

Jolly slowly approached and began weighing the bundles.

“It’s not enough,” Jolly said, staring seriously at Green.

“Are you pointing to little money or a small bag? Be a little bit more specific.”

“I’m pointing to little money. 10% for all of us is not enough,” Jolly said, not taking his eyes off him for a moment.

Green smiled as if he had expected a question like this. He sighed slightly and spoke in a tone as if he were addressing a small child who does not understand simple math.

“First, it’s not 10 percent but 15 percent, but as you already know, that 5 percent difference goes to you in advance as prep work payment and is paid off to you before the job as a down payment.”

“It’s not enough!” Jolly exclaimed.

“As you know,” Green continued in the same patronizing tone, “before each robbery, the amount paid to you with all costs is agreed upon, and I bear those payments. All possible additional costs, such as hiring a lawyer for those arrested, if any, are borne by me too. The deal has always been that you get the predetermined amount, and everything has worked like that so far, without any hassle. So, what’s changed all of a sudden now?” Green angrily finished the question.

“What has changed is that it’s getting more and more difficult to get the jobs done, preparations have never been more rigorous than they are now. The loot we bring to you is getting bigger every time! And our earnings remain the same, 10 percent!” Jolly shouted boldly.

Totally confused, Victor watched his friend, not recognizing him at all. After decades of acquaintance with Jolly, he could not understand where so much accumulated anger had come from in this otherwise always well-controlled man. He genuinely wanted to engage in conversation and calm the passions, but Green’s quick reaction to the outburst of Jolly’s anger denied him the opportunity to do so.

“So, 10 percent of so many millions are not enough for you, right? Then, why are you complaining about the preparations now, all of a sudden? You know very well that each Victor’s preparation delivers almost a flawless plan after which you always bring the booty and most importantly, the chances for you to get caught are minimal! And now all of a sudden, these preparations are hard for you!”

“Of course, I’m complaining about the preparations! Because they get increasingly difficult! Last time we had to ride a boat like sailors for fifteen days! Well, that’s not easy, Green!”

Victor did his best to stifle laughter at the memory of the last action in San Tropez. In his memory of the glorious moments, he did not miss the cold gaze of Green towards Jolly, although he noticed signs of sympathy mixed with the frustration of the moment.

“What’s sure not easy is NOT to prepare and end up in prison, right?” Green said calmly. “The prison lacks the luxury, the partying, and the leisurely life we are all used to. Is it better to endure the preparations and enjoy the fruits of successful work or serve time in jails of Europe, huh?”

“If running and hiding, experiencing fear in illegal border crossings, living like a scared animal pushed to a corner are what you mean by ‘enjoying the fruit of work’, then you’re bloody wrong, Green,” Jolly coldly replied to him.

“And why are you confessing to me now? Can’t you put up with the pressure anymore? Would you like to retire?” Green asked in a surprised voice raising an eyebrow.

“I just want to let you know that 10 percent is too little and that it doesn’t work that way anymore,” Jolly said, triumphantly lifting his head with a sarcastic sneer, visibly convinced that any possible further discussion was over.

Green sighed and moved over from the table. He slowly moved closer to the sitting room and looked closely at everyone around him, Jacqueline sitting in the armchair without saying a single word, Victor, pointing a silent gaze into his eyes, shaking his head as if to signal that he had nothing to do with this outburst, and then Jolly, obviously the leader of the rebellion. Green scratched his chin clenching unconsciously his teeth.

“Are you all aware of the fact that I’ve never organized robberies with the same crew twice in a row? Or in continuity as with you? Hmm?” Green asked, without getting a response. “Because all my life I have worked with semi-amateurs and thugs, scummy nitwits. You’re the first ones to break that tradition… and I didn’t regret, not for a moment. I have 100% achievement with you guys. But…” Green paused for effect, “…no one is irreplaceable. The business goes on, with or without you. This has been or more precisely, was a successful collaboration because there was a system, and everything was fixed up to the last detail. The earnings are as they are since other parts of the operation carry their costs that must be covered. So, as for the earnings and the loot percentage, no room for negotiation. Everything is already pre-arranged with the end customers. As they say,” Green looked Jolly directly in the eye, “…take it or leave it.”

The pregnant silence was only disturbed by rhythmic clock beats on the wall.

“Well, if so…,” Jolly broke the silence, picking up the bundles of notes, “…then I’m leaving it.”

Jolly smiled, putting the last money bundle in the inner pocket of his leather jacket.

“Well, if you say so,” Green nodded and shrugged.

Jolly walked over to Jacqueline and gently took her hand and kissed it with a smile. “Bye, princess!”

Before exiting through the main door, Jolly turned and exchanged glances with Victor, who smiled at him. Jolly winked at him before departing, leaving them in silence.

Victor stared at Green, noticing the muscles in his face twitching for a moment. Never having seen his departed friend so angry and determined, Victor decided to talk to him as soon as an opportunity arises. He could concur with a lot of what was said, but not with the fact that he had not told him anything in advance, leaving him this confused. The initial confusion slowly began to fade in the face of impending fury. After everything they’ve been through together, he could not understand that his best friend and business partner did not trust him enough to tell him what was upsetting him, to confide his black thoughts in him.

“The next action is in Dubai, early spring next year. Should I count on you or look for a new crew?” Green’s voice, as if startling him from a dream, scattered his thoughts disrupting his internal argument. At the very mention of a new action, he felt adrenaline boil in his veins, hardly comparable to anything he has known. There is no such drug, adventure, or extreme sport that could compare to preparing a new heist action and then executing it.

His look flew toward the pretty lady colleague in the armchair, who nodded slightly her head, smiling enigmatically. Her smile seemed overwhelming to him at that moment, as was the desire for action. He looked at Green and saw a smile on his face as well.


Chapter 2

From war whirlwind to bloody diamonds

Green

April 2007

On a plane of a local American company, Green was sitting by a small oval window, watching sylvan mounts of the American Northwest. The morning sun behind the plane refreshed the morning with bright colors, displaying the beauty of nature in its richest expression. The sky without even the tiniest cloud added to the good feeling that pervaded him. The constant murmur of airplane ventilation rocked him in serene thoughts, while he was observing Mounts that reminded him of his native land.

Born into a family of farmers and woodcutters, yet as a child composed and withdrawn, he was diligent and obedient to the farm, but he liked school, particularly math, so he learned regularly and brought good grades home. He sensed at a very early age that his father’s and uncles’ world were not that attractive as the world he surmised that the teacher gave him, enthusiastic that he should have such a student. The father decided to sacrifice and send the boy to secondary school and even to faculty, should it be necessary. At secondary school he started realizing what sort of chance he was given; ambition bore persistence and he already knew he would be the first one in his extended family to break the tradition and choose a path different from his father’s and grandfathers’. His calmness and hard work habit produced excellence in academic performance. Soon he realized he was smarter than most of the children of urban and classy descent. They did not like him, but he did not seek their company or approval either. He kept aloof and minded his own business, that is, studying hard. He was in a boarding school, and he realized he had to take over a part of the father’s burden, so he supported himself by digging channels for construction companies or loading bags in local factories. Completing law school within deadlines, he was the pride and joy of his family, and equally appreciated by most of his professors, while he also succeeded to make some friends among his peers as well.  

Although short in stature and average in physique, soon after graduation he was recognized as a potential quality staff asset in the intelligence world, where he was noted for his intellect and also for undoubtful resourcefulness, ambition, persistence, and, above all, discipline. He became an intelligence operative of a promising career, which marked a path in the eve of the war for him to join an elite paramilitary unit arousing terror throughout the region. Although not in the front line itself, Green fought intelligence battles with enemies in the background. He was an intelligence security officer responsible for interrogations and liquidations of insurgents or terrorists, who called themselves freedom fighters on all sides in the Yugoslavian wars, a kind of people abundant in number in civil wars, whichever the side they were fighting for. Green, unlike many others, did not suffer from PTSD or have a problem with his bloody past. For him, it was just an integral part of the job that had to be done.

Like many others before him in the intelligence world, he created a network of business contacts that could not be found in a telephone directory. These contacts spread from war-torn Yugoslavia to the pre-war and post-war West Africa, the home of many diamond mines, and all the way to Antwerp, the Mecca of the diamond business.

Working as a high-level intelligence officer, many doors opened for him for lucrative jobs in the future. One activity in which he excelled before the war was recruitment, training, and control of criminals under the blessing of the state, who would do the state’s dirty work from time to time in exchange for subsequent free engagement in their own criminal activities, always being able to count on the protection of the intelligence agencies of the state which they worked for, in this case, Yugoslavia. One of the advantages of the activity that he particularly valued was the issuance of forged passports. He was involved in making a stream of forged passports to various criminals from former Yugoslavia to the European Union and beyond, and within the process, he would create false identities for himself too. This was multi-beneficial to him nowadays, when he took control over some of his criminal collaborator’s businesses that became interesting to him, such as the diamond business. Knowing almost every apt criminal in Europe, he has never had a problem finding people to carry out carefully selected and planned robberies or any other criminal activity. He was aware of the fact that he was known in small circles, but what no one knew was his true identity, and that made him laugh now in a 23-B seat, while he casually checked the inside pocket of a light leather jacket. Along with the airline ticket, one of the fake passports rested on his chest.

The pilot spoke through the loudspeaker, instructing the crew and passengers to fasten their seat belts. He sighed slightly, reminding himself of the reason why he was on the plane.

Modernly dressed in dark jeans, a beige shirt, and a dark leather jacket, Green casually walked out of the airport building, heading to the right toward the end of the arrivals terminal, where a corpulent driver stood next to a black car. They shook hands quickly and before he sat forward, he threw his bag in the back seat.

“How was the flight?”

“Long.” Green buckled the seat belt. “And boring. Come on, go.”

The driver started the car immediately and got into the traffic jam.

They were sliding along the asphalt of an ordinary American city, whose name was so irrelevant that he didn’t care to remember. He felt completely indifferent about the American soil. His thoughts were lost in the distant past that he had come to revive now. He felt slight nausea in his stomach and tried to occupy his own attention with the large, colorful advertisements so typical of this Western nation. He could immediately recall at least five films that these scenes reminded him of.

Leaving the city and the wider downtown behind, they slowed down surrounded by the true image of that famous America. Streets no wider than two lanes, dilapidated and dirty, surrounding wooden, rundown, some even ramshackle houses, made a residential district that even police rarely come by. Poverty and misery screamed from every corner, every house, from almost every window.

The car stopped slowly on the left side of the street and the driver nodded toward the prefabricated house on the right, with a pale green facade that had surely seen better days.

“Here we are. He spends most of his time on the back porch. Behind the house, there is also wheelchair access as well as a rear entrance to the house that leads directly into the kitchen. Every morning at half-past eight the woman leaves and takes the children to kindergarten when she goes to work. They return about a quarter after five in the afternoon. That’s all I know. Let’s get your car now.”

Green just nodded and the driver started the car to the road. Exiting the impoverished residential district, they shortly embarked on a quick detour and after a few kilometers, turned off the road to a magnificent mall. The parking lot around the center, dotted with cars, was at least three times the size of the residential district they had just visited, but the driver was in the asphalt maze like a fish in the water. Turning sharply to the right, he stopped by a classic American sedan, the Ford Mondeo.

“It’s your car,” the driver said, and with a little gasp and effort, he got out of the car. Green mocked noticing the fatty anguish that had plagued his guide.

Getting out of the car, Green looked more closely at the shoddy Ford. The corrosive tin and faded color made a strong impression on him. He thought that this clunker’s place should be in a dump, not in a parking lot of a modern shopping mall.

“Don’t get fooled by its looks,” said the driver, as if reading his thoughts. “The engine is flawless. Undercarriage also. The tires are new, I just made them dirty not to protrude. The key and accessories are in the glove box. Everything is unregistered, as you asked.”

“Good,” Green said, nodding with satisfaction. “Thank you.” He shook his driver’s hand once more and opened the back door to pick up his bag.

“Wait,” said the driver. “Let me ask you something before you leave.”

Green sniffed and stood there, looking into his eyes.

“Why didn’t you just send an envelope as before? You know perfectly well that we would’ve got it done for you, as always.”

Green smiled and scratched his chin. “This time it’s different. I wanted to say hello to an old friend myself.”

Green tossed his bag over his shoulder, bypassed his Ford Mondeo, and headed straight toward the grand entrance to the mall. After checking the time on the watch, he realized that he had another hour to spare, so he went first to the restroom to freshen up and wash tiredness from his eyes, accumulated from the trip.

In a sea of tables and chairs, he found a place and a tray with the sandwich and juice that he had bought at one of many different fast food outlets. Overlooking the exit of one of the tech goods stores, he slowly chewed a sandwich, amused by the quarrel of two fat black women over a discounted TV, whose greed and lack of dignity made them ready to wrangle over banal things. He took the last sip of his juice and disposed of the leftovers in the intended place and headed in a hurry toward the same door where he had entered.

He had no problem finding the shabby Ford Mondeo in the morning sun. He stopped right next to the driver’s door and looked carefully around before taking a pair of leather driving gloves from his pocket that matched him as if made just for him. He reached for the lock of the unlocked car and put the bag in first into the passenger seat before entering the old Ford. Opening the glove box, he saw the car keys on a revolver. Taking out both, he first checked the revolver and ammunition, and then started the Ford engine that seemed very lively to him. The outside look may deceive, Green thought, impressed by the sound of the mighty Ford.

He returned via the same way to the residential district, parking in the same spot across the green ramshackle house. With a quick glance at the watch, he realized that there were only ten minutes left until the woman and her children are about to leave. Just as he was about to go for one ride around, to dispel potential suspicion, he noticed a woman with long black hair and two young children trotting behind her on the front porch. At the same time, the lean woman was trying to slip on her younger son’s sneakers and help her daughter tame her lush, shiny golden-yellow hair. Not a second to waste, Green hurried into the nearby side alley. Before getting out of the car, he checked his revolver and fastened it to his belt. He sighed deeply and got out of the car, focused on the task he set for himself. Like a cat, he hopped over the wooden fence of the house opposite the one he was aiming for. In the blink of an eye, he found himself in the back yard behind the house, listening to the live discussion of a mother and a girl with lush hair.

“Amra, will you comb your hair, come on! You can’t go that unkempt to school! What will the teachers say, what kind of mother do you have?”

“But mom! It hurts when I comb!” the little girl said on the verge of tears.

The woman stood up and grabbed the comb from her hand, forcibly combing through her curls, which only deepened her anguish and sobbing.

“Stop mom, I’m hurting!” the girl no longer suppressed shedding tears.

“And it should hurt! Every morning the same story! Why is it such a big problem to comb in time?!” the mother shrieked.

Green leaned against the back-door frame, carefully watching the drama on the porch. Suddenly, a man in a wheelchair emerged from the living room, quickly pushing toward the entrance.

“Give me the comb, I’ll comb you,” he said in a calm and gentle voice, managing to soothe the child’s tears.

“As if I needed you! No help from you anyway!” the woman burst out in an angry and acrimonious tone as if she wanted to hurt him as much as possible with her harsh words.

She took her daughter and son by the hand, and with brisk steps, almost dragged the children out of the yard and drove away without saying goodbye.

Green stared into the man’s back, but he could hear his sigh. His suffering and sorrow could be sensed miles around. Green walked into the house silently, hearing the sounds of the wheelchair as it returned to the living room. Before stepping into the living room, Green pulled out the revolver.

“Hi, Yure.”

He noticed his voice scared the man in the wheelchair. With his right hand, the man slowly turned his wheelchair and saw the revolver and a man from the past. He exhaled a sigh of relief and looked up at the ceiling.

“Oh, thank you, God,” Yure in the wheelchair said softly.

“Thanks for what?” Green asked with a serious face.

“God has heard my prayers, Green. I’ve tried so many times to take my own life. To hang myself, I’m unable, I can’t get to a gun, and I’ve tried several times with a knife, but there’s no strength in the bloody hands to even cut my veins” Yure’s eyes were teary.

Green looked better at the man in front of him. A long, shaggy beard, a dirty garment smelling with want of detergent, thin hands like napkins. He almost found himself pitying the man he was looking for.

“Come on, come on” Green cocked his gun. “Confess freely. Someone’s finally come to your life who wants to hear what you have to say.”

“I don’t have a job, Green. I lost my health as you can see. My other kidney has also failed, diabetes is galloping in my body, and I have no money for surgery, no insurance either. I have a woman who fucks with another, every day I watch her dress up, fancy up, and it’s not for me. I was bitter at first, now I understand it.” His voice broke and he sadly bowed his head, staring at the carpet that had lost its former luster.

“And the children?” Green forced himself to ask.

“They’re not mine,” Yure said, looking into his eyes.

The power in Green’s eyes made him look again at the floor, letting silence cover them both for a few long moments.

Green sighed. “Why? Tell me, why did you order the attack?” Remembering the reason why he stood in the living room at that moment, Green raged again.

“Green, it wasn’t my fault…” Yure muttered.

“Cut the crap! Whose fault was it then?!” Green shouted furiously. “You were the commander of the operations center! We negotiated with you! Tell the truth just once and act like a man, not a cunt! You know well that I’ve already checked all the facts”. Green breathed out and then continued. “And we had a great deal about it.” Green couldn’t yet resign to the course of that event. “We were leaving all the heavy weapons in return for free passage,” Green muttered. “Why did you kill those kids?” he asked, shaking his head. “We were not a threat to you. Who needed that attack anyway? Why wasn’t it enough for you as the weaker-armed party to just get all the heavy armament, which we, the Army, left to you while retreating with only our personal weapons? The unarmed soldiers you were shooting at were young conscripts in military service, so they were not a threat to you. No threat at all”. Green didn’t take his eyes off him, clutching his gun, crucified by the memory of the massacre.

Yure kept silent, breathing heavily. “The order came from the top, from the President himself or from a cabinet member, I don’t remember exactly anymore. There was a reference to the worse, the better policy. They wanted a massacre, they wanted brutal crimes and atrocities committed, to make the discord among the ethnicities as huge as possible. For, they counted on a fierce response of the Army, which would immediately trigger a NATO intervention and even stronger sanctions, as well as bringing in more international observers.” Yure raised his head and looked at him with sad eyes. “Use what you have in your hand. Disrupt this torture of my life, these pangs of remorse that eat me from inside.” He looked at the revolver. “My life is worth nothing.” Tears ran down his face, he was unable to stand his look anymore.

“You’re right,” Green said scornfully. “Your life is no longer worth it, and I see your punishment’s caught you yet long ago. Enjoy it.”

Green stuck his gun behind his back and went out through the main door without looking back at the shriek of the living dead.

For Green, he was already dead, at least in his eyes.

Heroes and crooks

22 December 1998

In a comfortable leather sofa, a dark-skinned African man sat dressed in an elegant, tailored formal military uniform, smoking a cigar. Golden rings on his hand glowed in the glare of afternoon sunlight. The dark-skinned middle-aged man did not smile while watching the news on a big television screen, listening carefully to every word of the news presenter.

“Jean-Christophe Meterann, the eldest son of the former French prime minister, is currently in custody in Paris. He was brought to a hearing yesterday afternoon for interrogation about the illegal arms trade and misuse of company assets. Mr. Meterann, better known as the French Lord Africa, was once a link in a very specific relationship between the French government and the African continent, more specifically the state of Engola. During the 1980s, during Jean-Christophe’s time as prime minister’s advisor, more precisely from 1986 to 1992, relations between France and Africa, especially its former colonies, were extremely close and intensely intimate, some would even call it unhealthy. Most of these countries were led by autocratic presidents, some better known as dictators, who preferred to interact directly with the prime minister Meterann, deliberately bypassing the Foreign Office and other official channels. Some of the suspicious services most commonly mentioned in the indictment are arms trafficking, money, interventions with the International Monetary Fund, and even the request for direct interference in the elimination of problematic opponents, as well as possibilities of protecting those same autocratic presidents on the soil of the Republic of France. In return, many of these African leaders donated significant sums of money to French political parties, as well as favored French companies when awarding lucrative investment contracts on African soil, which raised France’s international rating, placing it at the top of influential players on the map of Africa.

Jean-Christophe Meterann, all the time in close collaboration with his father, was a man one could rely on. Mr. Meterann Jr., better known by his nickname ‘Papa m’a dit’, to be translated as “Daddy told me’, for his frequent references to his father, was criticized for pursuing French politics in an overly secretive environment. Off the record, he was known to nurture and control a complex network of financial and political relations between France and the leaders of the African continent. The essence of these close relationships, wrapped in a veil of official secrecy, was to avoid public supervision and parliamentary scrutiny.

Upon his father’s departure from the office of the prime minister of the Republic of France, Jean-Christophe Meterann also left the position of advisor to the prime minister; so, using his contacts in the world, particularly in Africa, he soon established himself on the world’s stage as a successful businessman. The deal under investigation now dates back to 1993 and 1994 and involves the sale of Russian weapons and equipment to Engola. At this point, Mr. Meterann was only detained for interrogation. It is unclear whether he will eventually face criminal indictment based on his alleged involvement in arms trafficking in Engola. He is charged with abuse of powers in facilitating the sale of weapons as well as receiving cash payments directly from an arms dealer Mr. Peter Falgone. If the charges are confirmed by the prosecutor’s office, it is almost certain that Mr. Meterann Jr. will welcome Christmas behind bars. Friday morning, his lawyer, Jean-Pierre Vesri-Kampi filed an urgent bail application, which is currently pending. Mr. Vesri-Kampi confirmed that his client had received $ 1.8 million from an armaments company owned by Mr. Falgone, Prenko International, but that there was nothing illegal about the cash payment. Mr. Falgone also faced charges of illegal arms trafficking, tax fraud, and corruption. Author and businessman Paulie Loupe Culitzer was also arrested in action but released after interrogation.

A longstanding scandal

The allegations of corruption and illegal arms jobs in Engola with members of the French political milieu date back to 1997. The book published that year implicated Mr. Falgone, along with former Home Secretary Charles Pascal and former Development Cooperation Minister Michel Vousin. Similar claims were made in 1999 by the British organization Global Observer, which linked arms trade to French interests in Engola’s oil and diamond industry. Mr. Falgone is already facing charges of illegal weapons jobs and tax fraud related to the sale of arms to the Engola government in 1993.

Suspicious business jobs

Meterann and Culizer are suspected of acting as brokers in arms trafficking with African heads of state. Both suspects were previously questioned by police and have admitted receiving the money but deny any offenses. According to the French newspaper Le Monde, Mr. Meterann’s name was disclosed on a computer disk belonging to Prenko International. The report states that the disc details four payments made in 1997 and 1998 to Swiss bank accounts on behalf of Mr. Meterann. Investigators believe Mr. Meterann used his influence with the banks to secure loans for Engola, in connection with the payment for the acquisition of weapons. In 1998, Mr. Meterann was questioned by a parliamentary committee, where he stated that he had made only one secret trip during his term, denying attending state-level meetings, and when it came to the issue of the arms agreement, he stated that he had been informed of all agreements only after their conclusion, denying any interference with the said negotiations.

Arrests requested

Earlier this month, the Republic of France issued an international arrest warrant for a business associate of Mr. Falgone, Russian billionaire Arcadius Gaibamak. Mr. Gaibamak holds French, Russian, Israeli, and Engolan citizenship. Mr. Falgone and Mr. Gaibamak signed an agreement with Engola in 1993 for Russian equipment worth $ 47 million. The following year, in 1994, they signed another agreement worth $ 463 million. The former director of France’s state-owned arms export firm Bernie Bossier is also under investigation.”

The dark-haired uniformed African man reached for the remote from the table and stopped the broadcast and took the phone, dialing a number he knew by heart.

“Command Security Center!” Green replied after the third ring, dressed in camouflage uniform.

“Mr. Green, this is Mr. Blues,” said the dark-haired man with a hard English accent.

“Oh!” Green exclaimed in surprise and asked in plain English. “General Blues Engola?”

“Now the President Blues,” the dark-haired man had a sweet laugh.

“President? Are you serious?” Green asked in surprise.

“Sometimes you have to take matters into your own hands if you want to change things for the better. I hoped to find you on the same number, I need your help,” Mr. Blues said in a serious tone.

“What can I do for you?” Green asked, trying to ignore the detonations and sounds of gunshots at distance.

“I hear the sounds of fighting in the background. Are you still not giving up?“ Blues said. “I wonder if you will exceed our record.”

“We are only in the fifth year of this war, Mr. Blues. There’s still a lot of warfare to reach your record,” Green said, accepting the joke.

Mr. Blues laughed briefly and went on. “Mr. Green, let’s get to the point. Could we renew our cooperation? Specifically, I need your suppliers.”

“We have not been able to receive external orders since the wartime. Namely, as you can see, or rather hear, local orders had to be settled first.”

“Mr. Green, Omar collects supplies at the harbor Bord, in the same place as before. We would be very pleased to see you there and to continue our cooperation. All commodities will go under diplomatic shipment, we bear the shipment costs. The type of resource is irrelevant, we will take anything. I don’t ask about the quality since your commodities have always been of undoubted quality,” Mr. Blues smiled.

“So, all’s gonna be the way it used to be,” Green said.

“That’s right Mr. Green, just like it used to be,” Mr. Blues said laughing, and then continued. “Consider this, Mr. Green. NATO has pressured you for a peace treaty, the US election is forthcoming, and all efforts are being made to achieve international diplomatic success, and we all know what comes after that. And you are, as you know, an inconvenient witness of the past events. You, just like us, have bloody hands, Mr. Green. It won’t be long before they start prosecuting you for war crimes; the world needs to see somebody pay with their head for someone else’s accounts. Or one of your own kind may make cut your head off if they have any doubts that you might testify against some bigger fish… The time of heroism doesn’t outlive a peace treaty. Anyway, I hope to see you soon, Mr. Green.”

The conversation was interrupted and Green slowly hung up, staring out the window into the distance, listening to sporadic bursts of gunshots at distance.

Bombardment

1999

In a hurry, Green walked into the military barracks warehouse. He ignored the soldier at the entrance, refusing the assistance offered. Walking between the rows in the warehouse, he observed labels on the cases. Suddenly, a shrill and deafening swish blew his ears. He instinctively threw himself to the ground, expecting the detonation of a bomb that was inevitable. The earth trembled tremendously under his body, on which he remained to lay for the next two minutes, as sweat poured over him. Gathering strength and courage, he carefully got up from the floor and rushed to the window. He had something to see.

“Chief…,” the mentioned soldier stuttered, “… what was this?”

“Greeting card, soldier, of 250 kilos of explosive and 870 kilos of weight,” said Green, looking at the unexploded NATO bomb protruding from the empty fuel tank. He recognized the American-made BLU 109 bomb that he learned about in his military training, and only now had he had the opportunity to see it in action. He looked down at the hill in the middle of the barracks, toward the successfully camouflaged fuel tank, and he broke out in cold sweat and fear, which he will remember for many years to come.

“If the pilot had targeted the right tank, he would have wiped us off the face of the earth,” whispered Green to himself.

“Did you say something, Chief?”

“Soldier! Get all the kerosene out of the tank and move it! It’s 2000 tons, right? There’s no time to lose now!”

“Yes, sir!” the soldier screamed, as he made his way out of the warehouse.

Green stared at soldiers as they moved around along with the machinery to execute the order he gave them when suddenly a familiar voice startled him.

“Chief! I see you have made soldiers busy.”

“Colonel!” Green said, seeing the commander of the barracks, the popular Colonel Mickey.

“These American bastards bit tough to fuck us all up,” said Colonel Mickey, taking off his cap. “Look, I came to tell you, a withdrawal agreement has been signed. The evacuation is scheduled to begin tomorrow at 3 p.m. We have to get out with only small arms.”

Green noticed the colonel was disgusted with the mere mention of the agreement.

“How come, with only small arms?” Green asked, disbelieving what he heard with his ears.

“Just like that.” The colonel forced a smile. “We are surrounded from all sides. Their Ministry of Interior and the Territorial Defense seized all weapons, ammunition, and equipment in the surrounding cities. By the end of last month, the Government had reorganized the Territorial Defense, merging them with Patriotic League troops. Fuck, now there are over one hundred thousand of them in total.”

“Yes, but with barely forty or fifty thousand light weapons!” Green shouted. “Colonel, if we withdraw and leave heavy weapons, which by the way they don’t have, we risk our own lives! What guarantee do we have that they will not use it immediately against us?”

“They won’t. We have a safe retreat,” said Colonel Mickey not very reassuringly.

“But Colonel, in their eyes we are war criminals! That our people glorify us to heaven as heroes, means nothing to them! These will surely look for revenge, we need stronger guarantees and more details about the agreement, which route to go!”

“Fuck, Chief, I mean, what can I tell you? We need to get the best out of this situation. We were told, if we refuse the agreement, NATO can hardly wait to level us to the ground, that the barracks would be as flat as that table over there. We have no choice,” the Colonel tapped him on the shoulder. “Inform the troops, have preparations for the evacuation done,” said the colonel, and left the warehouse.

Green stared at the kerosene hill in the middle of the barracks and decided not to wait for the enemy with his arms crossed.

WITHDRAWAL

Entering the warehouse office, he saw a soldier dozing on an old soldier bed. Green used all his authority and shook the soldier violently.

“What the heck, you’re sleeping, as if on a vacation?!” The soldier jumped out of bed, agitated and uncertain on his feet. “Come with me, you have to help me.”

A military truck was parked in the middle of the warehouse and Green opened the back of the truck.

“You see these cases, we’ll load them into the truck,” Green said as he headed toward the cases shown.

“But what, how… was it not said that we would only evacuate with small arms?” The soldier asked dreamily, rubbing the dream from his eyes.

“We’ll be done sooner if we talk less,” Green said with a serious look, already accepting the handle of the first case.

The soldier bent down and accepted the case without saying a word. After the third case, a terrible noise broke through the clouds, forcing them both to lie down on the floor. Green jumps quickly, wiping dust off his uniform.

“It’s not a bomb, it’s a pilot breaking the sound barrier… just to scare us, and so they did.” Green looked at the terrified soldier. “Fuck this, case by case, we won’t be done by midnight. We’ll put the cases on pallets and load them with a forklift into the truck, so it’s faster.”

The young soldier just nodded, and they tackled the pallets and cases without saying a word. As soon as they were done with the pallets, Green went for the forklift and in no time the pallets with cases were stacked side by side on the truck, protected by a tarpaulin from curious eyes.

“Great. You’ll come with me tomorrow when the evacuation begins. Until then, stay here and pay attention to the truck. I’ll leave it here until tomorrow,” Green said, without waiting for an answer and left the warehouse, closing the door. Outside, he was greeted with fresh air and the night sky. Satisfied with the job done, Green lit a cigarette and smiled at the stars.

Despite the discipline, when it comes to evacuation, every man, including a soldier, begins to think first of himself and only then of his uniform and the military. Panic overwhelmed the manpower, and the commanders struggled to maintain calmness and discipline. Green stood out with his stillness in front of the soldiers, instilling the stillness in their restless souls.

As agreed upon in the agreement, the army convoy was ready and headed for the gate, determined to leave the barracks that were considered a temporary home until yesterday.

Green was mostly concerned about the truck, where a soldier from the warehouse sat behind the wheel. He was also more than ready to go as far as possible from here.

“Chief!” Colonel Mickey shrieked, hurrying toward him.

“What happened, Colonel? The troops are ready.”

“But they’re not ready. The evacuation was delayed until 7 p.m. tonight. They cannot guarantee us complete security as of this hour. They just agreed and reached a compromise.”

“So we’re going to have to retreat in the dark,” Green concluded, noting that it wasn’t a bad idea for a safer withdrawal. On the other hand, the worm of doubt bothered him, if something else was cooking up since they asked for more time.

“Yes, in the dark,” the colonel affirmed and then returned to the command center.

Green returned to the truck and shared cigarettes with his driver.

After the afternoon sun but in calm and quiet skies for a change, slightly before nineteen hours, the convoy slowly started leaving the barracks, this time without stopping. In the rear third of the convoy was Green with his truck.

As they were slowly approaching the outskirts of the city and seeing the desolation of the streets lit by the sad yellow color of city lights, his heart sank in sorrow. The city was devastated, without a living soul. As they approached the downtown, they came across burning cars in the streets, which only made discomfort worse. He glanced at his driver and saw him upset too, wiping his sweaty forehead with his sleeve.

“Where did these burning cars come from? What’s this…isn’t the city deserted?” the soldier asked while squeezing the wheel nervously.

“That’s what I’m wondering too,” Green uttered worriedly, something came across his mind that made him sweat even harder.

What if they made checkpoints, Green thought, if they inspect the truck, I’m all screwed up.

As he contemplated how to get away from a potentially inconvenient situation, he did not notice the movement in the upcoming buildings, a kilometer ahead of the Malta junction.

Suddenly an attack was launched on the convoy from all sides. The head group of the convoy was wiped from the face of the earth by rocket launchers. Trucks loaded with manpower flew into the air, burning in fire. In an instant, human screams and stench of burnt human bodies filled the air of the once peaceful city. The survivors jumped out of the trucks and returned fire on the enemy threatening from all sides.

The soldier flinched behind the wheel, awaiting death, watching the horror of what’s life turned to be in a blink of an eye.

“What the fuck are you stopping for?!” Green screamed. “Reverse, get the hell out of here if you don’t want us killed!!!”

The commanding and loud tone of Green’s voice startled the then frozen soldier, and he quickly started moving the truck in reverse, pushing car wreckages away.

Green saw an alley on the right. “Turn right to this alley! Quick!”

The soldier obeyed without a word and turned to the right. The engine howled at high revs, treading over the broken glass that had fallen from windows of buildings during previous detonations. Green prayed within himself to get out of this screaming hell, repeating the mantra within himself that his early deceased mother used to sing often to him as a kid when he was frightened of thunderstorms, ‘May God Keep His Green Safe’.

“Everything will be fine,” said Green. “Make it full throttle, we need to get out of the downtown as soon as possible!”

The truck took off, pulling the last atoms of power from an already loaded engine. Green concentrated and examined the city plan in his head. He suddenly realized that they were going in the wrong direction.

“We have to get back to the main road we came down from. Turn left to the next street.”

The soldier obeyed and did as he was ordered. The street was tighter than a toddler’s shoe and Green suddenly grabbed him by the shoulder.

“Brake!”

Like a robot, the soldier stepped on the brake and stopped in place.

“Look!” Green nodded to the left of the truck, and the soldier saw the same thing as Green, a perfect look at the head of the convoy they had belonged to until recently. Without a problem, they recognized the Territorial Defense uniforms moving cautiously toward military vehicles.

“Turn the truck off” Green whispered, and silence prevailed in the alley.

Although they were just a bit over a hundred meters away, they could see everything in detail. Soldiers, medical staff, and commanders were lying on the road, crying for help. Those with lighter wounds were trying to help the more severely injured, those with whom they have been together for good and for worse. The members of the Territorial Defense showed no mercy. They shot and killed anyone who was still breathing, the cries for mercy were falling on deaf ears. With each shot, Green’s eyes twitched, while hatred was gushing through his heart and soul like incurable cancer. The soldiers were still capable of defending themselves fired at the killers, wounding several of them. They soon cut and ran like frightened mice, calling for the help of snipers via handheld radios. Soon afterward, the last jolts of the combat subsided, invigorating the relentless killers for an even more ruthless massacre. Medical staff wearing large red crosses on coats and sleeves got to pick up a few survivors, but they too fell prey to the bloodthirsty beasts who also thrust in the ambulances, shooting the helpless in the heads, laughing gleefully.

Green was no longer able to watch it. He tapped the soldier who started the truck engine on the second try and slowly drove away without turning on his headlights.

In the next street, they turned left again and soon they were back on the main road. They couldn’t resist looking to the right. Dismembered bodies hung from the first trucks of the convoy, soldiers having fought fiercely though briefly now being part of a dead image of Dante’s Hell. The stench of death and burnt human flesh filled their nostrils and made them turn their heads, driving as quickly and far away as possible from the doom eluded.

A dimly lit checkpoint was emerging at the Malta junction that they had to cross. The members of the Territorial Defense came out to the middle of the road with their weapons made ready, waving them to stop.

“What do I do?!” the soldier muttered.

“What!!! Full throttle and thrust them!” Green yelled.

The truck dashed at full speed toward the Territorial Defense members, forcing them to throw themselves seeking shelter. The truck hit the wooden barricade with the right side of the bumper, breaking it instantly.

“Watch the corner!” Green shouted and the soldier turned the steering wheel with great difficulty without taking his foot off the accelerator pedal, with screeching tires and zinging bullets, scraping through to avoid hitting the corner of the building and remain on the main road. With every second that they were moving away from the enraged enemy, they were getting closer to freedom.

Getting to the main motorway, they both heaved a sigh of relief.

After a while, Green demanded that they stop at the roadside to the right of the main road, close by a side road leading up the hill.

“I have to relieve myself, too much excitement for so little time,” Green smiled, and got out of the truck, walking toward a bush. The soldier joined him, also smiling, happy to have escaped certain death. Just as he was about to relieve himself, he felt the coldness of a gun barrel beneath his ear.

“Fuck it, boy, we’re parting ways here,” Green said in a heavy voice.

“Chief, please don’t!” the soldier said beseechingly on the verge of tears. “I didn’t do anything…”

“You didn’t,” Green interrupted him, “but the question is what you’re going to do. You can’t go with me, it’s probably clear to you.”

“Yes, Chief,” the soldier confirmed with a teary voice yet.

“This is how you’ll do it. You will take this side road over the hill and after an hour you will run into our troops. When asked how you got away, you will say that you managed to escape through side alleys, and that way you got to reach the free territory. If anyone asks you about me… say I was killed with the others in the ambush, you saw when the truck was blown away by a rocket launcher. Son, you’ll have to stick to that story. I know who you are and where you’re from. I know where you live and where your divorced parents live. Don’t make me meet you again, because next time will be the last time. Is it clear?”

“Clear, Chief, crystal clear,” the soldier said crying.

“Now, repeat what you’ll say when our guys find you,” Green said, putting his gun behind his back.

“I’m running up the hill and… you wwwe… were killed, the truck was bbb…blownnn up… with…,” the soldier was humming when he heard the door slamming. The truck clanked gearing up and kicked up dust swallowing asphalt, leaving the soldier by the road, broken down to tears, grateful to have been given a new opportunity rare to be found in a movie, let alone in life.

Green was driving incessantly until deep in the night, stopping nowhere until just before the border.

At the last gas station before the border, he stopped the truck in the unlit part of the parking. He walked hurriedly to the payphone, inserting coins rapidly, while retrieving a small notebook with his other hand from his pocket, looking for a phone number. He typed in the number he wanted and after the second ring, a smile appeared on his face.

“Yes?”

“It’s me, Green. I need a free pass right now, tonight. One truck. At the Bord Port.”

“Got you. Be ready for our trucks by the end of next week,” said the voice from the other side.

“Agreed,” Green confirmed, and hung up. He took a cigarette out of his pocket and lit it. Fortune favors the brave, crossed his mind, brightening up his face.

Under dark clouds and muggy summer heat, Green spent the next day en route to his destination. The sun appeared on the horizon scattering clouds and illuminating the blueness of the sea, a sight of which no one can remain indifferent to. The apparition of the sea also meant driving downhill toward the shore, and Green geared down as he maneuvered carefully the heavy military truck toward the Bord Port.

Approaching the main entrance at the right terminal, he saw African soldiers armed to the teeth hurrying to lift the ramp, admitting him to the quay without saying a word. Green turned the steering wheel toward a cargo vessel and containers at the end of the dock. On the deck of the cargo vessel, he immediately recognized Omar, the General Blues’ special operations guy. Omar waved to him cheerfully, pointing his finger towards the open container near the ship. Green reached out of the window and waved briefly, stopping the truck right next to the container shown. He switched off the truck and jumped out quickly, straightening his back, stiff from the long ride.

Omar hurried off the deck to welcome him.

“Mr. Green! I’m happy you made it!” Omar said, grinning from ear to ear, shaking hands cordially with Green. “Trust me, Omar, I’m happier myself!”

Omar laid a hand in his pocket and pulled out a box of red Marlboro. “Are you in for a real cigarette?”

“Isn’t it a copy?” Green grinned.

“Come on, Mr. Green, only the best for you,” Omar said, pulling out a gold-plated zip lighter and lit him a cigarette.

Omar glanced at the soldiers, who quickly tackled to unload the truck.

“Mr. Green, just one more loading for us before the twilight. Onboard, we have food, chilled drinks, whatever you want. When we get the last loading done, then we will set sail.”

“No problem, Omar. What matters only now is that I’m safe. But know, I’ll stay here for a while, arrange for a few more deliveries, then in a year or two I’ll join you on the journey to collect all the shipment payments together.”

“Of course, you know there will never be a problem with us regarding the payment. Would you like a cold beer, so we can quench thirst in this heat?” Omar asked, winking at him.

Green just laughed and followed him on board. Soon a ship waiter appeared, carrying two bottles of cold beer. He knocked with Omar and took a long sip of cold hop juice. The experienced horrors efficiently disappeared before attacks of the cold liquid, but he could not escape the summer swelter.

With a bottle of beer in his hand, he glanced toward the setting sun, feeling the gentle twilight breeze on his cheeks dispersing the heat. He wished this moment would never stop.


Chapter 3

Africa - How the diamond business works

General / President Blues

2002 Africa meeting - Green and Blues

Land breeze heralded proximity of the African mainland. After so many days spent on the Atlantic Ocean, Green yearned for land. Now he has had all too much of the sea blueness and million of caprices that the Atlantic Ocean is known for. The cargo vessel loaded with containers berthed routinely and with no problem to the port of Lunde, the metropolis of Engola, better known as the Atlantic Coast Diamond. On the solid, paved soil of Africa, a ready jeep with a driver awaited Omar and Green and drove them to the magnificent Presidential Palace, breaking through the city throng. The magnificent palace with a dome in the middle reminded Green of the US Capitol Hill. They got out of the jeep and a soldier, dressed in a ceremonial military uniform, escorted them to the interior of the presidential residence. Omar pointed to the front desk where he exchanged a few words with an officer in their native dialect.

“Mr. Green, you’re going upstairs to the President’s office now. After meeting the President, I’ll take you to the hotel. Is it OK?”

“Perfect,” Green replied and smiled, thinking of the amount he had earned by sending deliveries in the last two and a half years.

Together with the soldier, he walked up the broad stairs covered with soft carpet to the top floor with the presidential office. The soldier showed him to sit on a hand-carved bench next to the office door. Green did as he was told and the soldier went back down the stairs.

A harsh conversation coming through the high office door left ajar caught his full attention.

Green listened carefully to the conversation inside the presidential cabinet.

“ESCOM, or Engola Sale Company, was established in 1999 as a joint venture between Mtiama, the Leo Tegirev Group, and Delta Diamonds after Tevirs left Engola in bad relations with its old partner, the Lunda government. ESCOM has promised to hand over most of its revenue to the government budget, but at the time, this monopolist in the Engolan diamond market marked an 87% drop in its annual profits!”

At the very mention of diamonds, Green cocked his ears even more.

“I’ll explain to you everything,” another voice from the office said. Green easily understood the pure English accent, coming from a conspicuously upset man in the President’s office. “The annual profits are severely affected by weaknesses in the diamond market. However, ESCOM affirms that the results are still good news for the majority shareholder of the company, that is, you, the Government of Engola. ESCOM’s contribution to the Treasury jumped to nearly $ 63 million, a three-fold increase over the amount paid in 1999 when ESCOM ousted Tevirs and became the only authorized buyer of diamonds in Engola. As you know, it was just at that awkward time when the role of diamond profit in financing civil wars in Africa began to hit headlines around the world. This has prompted new efforts within the diamond industry to check more closely individual diamond traders supplying companies such as Tevirs and ESCOM in Engola. That is why we had a lot of investments in the first period of our cooperation and we immediately introduced a register of traders. So far, we have kept that promise, although the market price of diamonds has fallen by almost a quarter.”

“ESCOM’s monopoly on diamond trading in Engola has made you a serious contender with the global diamond marketing giant Tevirs.” Green recognized the voice of his friend General Blues. “If we know that Engola is the fourth largest diamond producer in the world, that means,

ESCOM, i.e. you, retain control of more than 10% of the world’s supply of raw diamonds. But I have to mention that last year’s net profit was less than £ 2 million compared to the year 2000 with $ 14 million in earnings. Total sales fell significantly, although the number and weight of diamonds sold increased by more than 25%.”

General Blues and his associate would not let the ESCOM representative come up with any remarks. It was now easier for Green to follow the conversation.

“However, the latest data do not indicate the ratio between the diamonds ESCOM bought from official mines against those bought from unofficial diggers, known as garimpeiros,” said the general’s associate. “This ratio in the year of 2000 was roughly half-and-half, but there is an opinion that many garimpeiros are reluctant to sell to ESCOM because it has used its monopoly position to keep prices low. This is firsthand information from our intelligence reports. As a result, large quantities are smuggled out of the country. Last year’s report estimated that the total worth of illegal diamond resale cases could be up to $ 1.2 million a day.”

After a brief pause, the general’s associate continued: “That is why our government has decided to cancel this contract and return to cooperation with Tevirs.”

For a few precious moments, there was total silence.

“Wait a minute!” said the ESCOM representative, raising his voice in disbelief. “Well, you can’t just cancel our contract as soon as the first problem occurs!”

“It is my duty that I am assigned by his Excellency the President to present you the decision to terminate the contract, with an important remark, this decision is irrevocable. If you require explanations and details of the decision, I will be glad, upon request, to present them to you in my office.”

“This is outrageous! What kind of picture are you sending about yourself to the world?! No one will want to work together with you, or your irresponsible government!” the ESCOM representative shouted at the President, ignoring his whereabouts.

“I beg you to watch your behavior,” the general’s voice soothed him in a calm, laid-back tone.

“Are you saying there is no way to find a common language here?” the representative asked in disbelief and with hoarse voice.

“About what? The decision, as already said, is irrevocable.”

The door swung opened abruptly, startling Green. 

A black-haired man in a purely white suit rushed from the office, furious like a wounded wolf forced into a corner. Green hadn’t seen such an angry expression on someone’s face for a long time, but a sexy assistant in a business suit and sexy high heels managed to distract him enough to forget completely about the angry man.

Green got up and walked toward the door, meeting at the entrance a tall African man dressed in a business suit with a briefcase in his hand.

“Mr. President, if you no longer need me, may I go and finish my paperwork?”

“Of course, you are free to go,” President Blues said seeing him out and then smiled cordially upon seeing Green.

The tall associate disappeared down the stairs while President Blues and Green greeted each other warmly.

“Come in, what are you doing at the entrance like a doorman?” President Blues laughed, visibly pleased about the visit.

Green was impressed by the office, beautifully decorated in the genuine style of a powerful man. He sat down in a leather armchair opposite to the presidential desk and President of Engola in a leather office chair, already ordering coffee and whiskey on the phone.

“What kind of drama was this, Mr. Blues?” Green said, comfortably settled. “It was easier I guess to eliminate UNITA terrorists in the Kuango Valley than to mess with these business intrigues?”

The President smiled at the slight provocation. “Long and complicated story, Mr. Green. Sometimes paper is more powerful than weapons, but far more boring as well,” he said putting a bunch of paper in his hand. “Here, read these reports yourself while I go to the toilet.”

Diamond wars

March 30, 2000, Tevirs hearing, Antwerp Court

In the main courtroom of the modern edifice of the Antwerp Supreme Court, a court official was looking at a judge, waiting for permission to begin announcing a court hearing.

“The Antwerp Supreme Court shall hear parties to a litigation procedure between Tevirs, a diamond trade company from London, Great Britain, and Mtiama, a diamond producer from Lunda, Engola, concerning a dispute over an exclusive sale representation agreement, which was instigated after a Belgian commercial court seized a shipment of Engolan diamonds 25 May 1999, which had been exported without consent of Tevirs. The Tevirs claim shall be presented by Tracey Beterss, the legal representative of Tevirs,” a court official said in a formal tone.

“Your honor,” said a business-elegant lady, lawyer Beterss, “the lawsuit was instigated because our company has a valid agreement of exclusive sale-and-purchase representation with Mtiama, noting that the government of Engola is the majority-owner of that company.

The contentious shipment of diamonds was exported in contravention with this contract. We successfully petitioned for the court order for seizure of those diamonds by Belgian authorities. We demanded that the seizure remains in force until the case is resolved,” the lawyer said all in one breath, coughed slightly and then proceeded. “The diamonds shipment was exported 25 May 1999 by Engolan Sale Company – ESCOM, a company affiliated with diamond magnate Leo Leonne and Belgian investors, while it is important to note that the Engolan government has a majority stake in this company too. Earlier that year, the new Engolan government, formed after the coup by the newly appointed President, concluded an exclusive representation agreement with ESCOM and terminated the existing agreement with Tevirs, signed in 1990. Our contract was approved in exchange for a $ 50 million loan to Mtiama to develop diamond resources in the valley of the Kuango River. The mine was seized the following year by UNITA rebels and was returned to government control only in 1998 when UNITA ceded that territory. We claim that our contract is still in force and valid and there are at least two years left until it expires. We have the right to protect the contract and we shall prove a gross breach thereof. This was the first delivery of diamonds to leave Engola under a new sale representation agreement. Our contract, as already established, is still in force and we claim that we have the right to purchase of the contentious diamonds shipment”.

The judge’s gaze flicked across the courtroom. “Were reasonable efforts taken to reach an amicable settlement? ”

Attorney Beterss answered readily. “At a meeting in Belgium last week, Tevirs and the Engolan government failed to resolve the issue, and the Engolan government was not at all concerned about Tevirs’ stance. Our attorneys’ crew came to the conclusion that there are grounds for legal proceedings against Mtiama to enforce our rights as per the original contract,” she paused for a moment. “So, while our contract is still in force, ESCOM also signed a contract with the Government of Engola. That’s why we claim that ESCOM has no legal right to sell diamonds, even though they have a contract with the government.”

Tevirs withdraws from Engola

24 May 2001, Lunda Supreme Court, Engola 

In front of the Engolan Supreme Court in Lunde, a journalistic uproar was created. The diamond mining scandal was major domestic and foreign news.

“International diamond giant Tevirs has decided to immediately suspend investment in exploration operations in Engola,” a TV journalist said in a sensational tone, staring straight at the camera. " A Tevirs public release read that there had been a stalemate in the company’s negotiations with the Engolan government. The company has partnered with the Engolan state-controlled diamond company Mtiama under a contract signed in 1990. However, the contract was terminated when the new law regulating the diamond industry was introduced in February 2000 last year. Tevirs’ decision means that the Leonne Group now has the exclusive right to sell Engolan legitimate diamond exports. Rebels in the Engola civil war still control many diamond mines in the country and their campaign is partly funded by diamond sales” said the reporter in one breath, and continued: “Studio, I interrupt my presentation because of Tevirs’ appearance before reporters.”

Out of the whole group of people in business suits, only the Tevirs representative spoke.

“14 months after the termination of the original contract, we were unable to reach a new agreement with the Engolan authorities, and therefore, we decided that our operations in Engola were not viable at the moment, even though Tevirs has contributed substantially with capital investment and technology needed to find kimberlitic pipes from which diamonds are pulled.”

“Are you leaving Engola?“ the journalist exclaimed, pushing the microphone toward the lady representative.

“Despite today’s announcement, Tevirs will maintain its presence in Engola and intends to continue negotiations with the government until an agreement is finally reached. So much for now, thank you!” the representative smiled briefly at the reporters and, with the others, started to break through the crowd toward the limousines.

Just behind them, the public defender came out of the courthouse, who was surrounded as soon as he stepped on the stairs lit by the afternoon sun.

“What is the government’s response to the news that the international diamond giant Tevirs is suspending its diamond mining operations in Engola?”

“We deeply regret Tevirs’ unilateral decision to suspend further investment in Engola. The government does not deny that the state-owned diamond company Mtiama failed to repay its $ 50 million loan to Tevirs. The government affirms that Mtiama’s operations were hampered by the continuation of the civil war in diamond-producing areas, and therefore the loan was not timely repaid.”

The Tevirs representative stopped to hear what the public defender had to say and, surprised by what she heard, returned to the journalists.

“We are surprised that the government has raised the issue of the $ 50 million debt. Tevirs offered to freeze this debt as soon as the government gives legal guarantees to our company about its long-term future in Engola. Tevirs and Mtiama worked in a partnership under terms of the contract signed in 1990, but last year, the Engolan government introduced laws that made the contract invalid and after more than a year of negotiations, unfortunately, no agreement was reached on the terms under which we would continue to work in Engola.”

The public defender did not expect her reaction to his words and forced a smile. “A previous government statement confirmed that, according to the Engolan Constitution, all mineral resources are the property of the state and at the state’s free disposal. But the government insists that negotiations continue cordially, and I emphasize that the Engolan government has offered, as a bona fide gesture, to extend the validity of the mining concession, which expires this year.”

The Tevirs representative answered to him sharply. “You totally missed the point! There was no reason to extend the concession deadlines when due to the Civil War, Tevirs’ operational use of the area allotted to us is limited to only about 20%. Thanks again!” the representative said, and went to the limousine.

The public defender also thanked and went his own way, leaving the journalist to conclude his report. “This development was interpreted by analysts as a coded warning to Tevirs that they cannot work in Engola without cooperation with a state-owned company. But at the same time, Mtiama depends on Tevirs for the technical know-how required for deep mining operations. Tevirs expressed readiness to continue negotiations with the government, and the Thursday statement by the Lunde State Council does not rule out that possibility.”

The Tevirs representative closed the limo door angrily and settled into the back seat comfortably. The air-conditioner in the limo eased the discomfort she was feeling. She took a cell phone from her pouch and typed in a number.

“Is there any progress?” a hoarse voice was heard from the other side.

“None. What’s the next step? Waiting?”

“No.”

“What then?”

“We need a new supplier. Activate the TEVZZUANA project.”

“TEVZZUANA project,” the representative sighed. “All right,” she said, ending the call.

She caught a curious look at her assistant.

“A TEVZZUANA project? What, we’re not going to file a new appeal?” the assistant asked timidly.

“No, we will activate the TEVZZUANA project.”

“And what is it, if I may know? I hear about this project for the first time?..”

“The diamond excavation in Bezzuana is controlled by TEVZZUANA, a derivative of ‘Tevirs Bezzuana’, 50/50 owned by the Bezzuana government and our company. Many Tevzzuana directors are senior political officials, so why deal with those ones who don’t want to support us? For example, the Tevzzuana’s deputy chairman, D.Sc. E.R. Tonvale, is the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Mines, Energy, and Water of Bezzuana. Another director, N.L. Zelebeng is the Permanent Secretary to the Prime Minister of Bezzuana. Another director, D.Z. Novemi is the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Trade and Industry. In the diamond industry, we call this interdependence or the model of mutually beneficial relationships. To put it simply, at one of the meetings, Prime Minister of Bezzuana said, the partnership between Tevirs and Bezzuana is similar to marriage“. The representative laughed briefly and said: “Sometimes I wonder if a better analogy would be that of Siamese twins.”

The limo was sliding along the streets of Lunda, drawing her attention to the city’s hustle and bustle.

“Why have we never mentioned the project?” the assistant asked curiously.

“Because you are still a new employee and learn gradually. Information will be available to you in stages. Tevirs is no longer a public company and strives for business in high secrecy. Probably only a handful of CEOs know exact data about the mining potential of the diamond and precious metal deposits from our Tevzzuana project. Accurate and detailed information is not provided to anyone, either inside or outside the company. Confidentiality is crucial in the diamond trade,” she said, giving her assistant a significant look. “Our industry is secretive to the extent of paranoia. Contracts and written codes in our industry are almost unknown in other industries.”

“So, we are starting excavations in Bezzuana?”

“We don’t know when we will start mining. Tevirs keeps diamond prices high due to serious and systematic limitation of supply. Tevirs’ intention to begin excavations may not be executed for years, even decades until other mines are exhausted. Keeping a deposit in the ground, out of reach of other companies, can ultimately be just as profitable for both the company and the government as if diamonds were immediately extracted. Currently, as much as 20% of Bezzuana’s diamonds are stored to limit supplies, so, at the moment, it doesn’t make economic sense to dig for new diamonds. Keeping them in the ground is cheaper and safer than storing them in strongrooms. Three major diamond mines of Bezzuana – Orapa, Jvaneng, and Letlhakane have transformed this country into the world’s leading gemstone producer, nevertheless, all of them will inevitably be exhausted in the future. This new diamond deposit we are talking about was discovered at the Kope region in the early 1980s, and in 1982, Tevirs entered into a joint venture with another company, VALCONBRIDGE, to evaluate the deposit site. But first, we have to take care of the Bushmans,” the representative sighed worriedly.

“Bushmans?!” the assistant asked in surprise.

“Yes, Bushmans, you heard right. Their settlements are at the very center of the new supply source. We must complete their eviction first. The Minister of Commerce and Industry announced a decision on the resettlement of Bushmans in October 1986, but no action was taken so far. The formal evaluation of the mine was completed in 1996 and the first forcible evictions began in May 1997. One Bushman community, Ksade, which already had a school, ambulance, airfield, and water well, has been completely removed. Also, in 1997, less than two months after Ksade’s eviction, our mining company MenngloMericann subcontracted another company, Mebkal, to transport mining and drilling equipment to Ksade and other destinations in the area.”

“What do we say if journalists ask us about these evictions?”

“That’s why we’re not performing there as Tevirs,” the spokeswoman smiled. “We are performing with MenngloMericann which is our diversified mining group 45% shares of which are owned by Tevirs. When asked about this, MenngloMericann or Tevirs will deny that they knew anything about the activities in this ore basin. In 1997, the company did drill two exploratory drills in the area, one near Ksade, but we had no contact with the Bushmans, who were, of course, already removed. As for the contract with Mebkal, we will use a standard operations management phrase, ‘We have not been in a position to verify beyond any doubt existence of such a contract’“.

Board of directors meeting

September 2002 - Tevirs Directorate, Johannesburg

At a long oval table crammed with various papers, folders, and drinks, members of Tevirs Company Board of Directors sat in a luxuriously equipped conference room, listening to and commenting on the presenter’s report.

“What other activities from the 1997 five-year plan have we implemented?”

The first review title of the presentation controlled from her laptop appeared on a big screen behind the presenter and a colleague of hers.

RESEARCH - increasing diamond testing after an eviction

“We have already spent a large amount of designated budgetary funds on surveying the Kope site, which includes contracting anthropologists to study the rights on the land claimed by Bushmans. The area is definitely situated amidst the richest diamond deposits in the world. The deposit sites in the Kope zone have been described by our industry sources as very significant. In 1997 for example, the research department head named it moderately large and described it as the best new target area in Galahari. His report indicates that prospects to find a commercial diamond deposit site within the Galahari project may be deemed favorable. Galahari, just like Kope, has the utmost potential, but there are other well-known sites on the Bushman land as well. For example, there are significant deposits in the Gukam area where trial drilling was conducted,” the lady presenter said in one breath. Her colleague took it over from her and continued.

„In 1999, mineral exploration camps were set up within a few miles of Nolabo, a large Bushman community in the area. In the same year, Tevirs issued an excavation permit for Kope. These renewable licenses, valid for three years, were drawn up under the new law on mining law in that same year. Their purpose is to grant a company has completed an exploration program and confirmed discovery of mineral deposits to retain rights over them in case that prevailing market or other conditions are such that they are not immediately commercially exploitable.”

The lawyer sitting next to the projector turned to members, feeling a need to clarify in more detail from the legal point of view.

“With this clause, the Company reserved the right to review periodically the economic viability of the project to decide whether or not to continue with the full scope of exploitation. Even if we had no plans to continue the works in the foreseeable future, we ensured a right to start them afterward. We knew that the company was likely to renew this option.”

The manager nodded in agreement and then continued. “These are maps from the government’s Department of Geological Surveys that show a dramatic increase in diamond concessions since the Bushman’s eviction. Many of these new concessions were provided by the company VHP Villidon. The Galahari Diamonds subsidiary was established to carry out the research work, which established another branch, called Godi. Bezzuana’s only official on the Godi Committee is Archie Mogve, a senior political advisor to Bezzuana’s prime minister and a former minister of mineral resources. An international financial corporation, a branch of the World Bank, has invested $ 2 million in the venture. For this project, we collaborated with VHP Villidon through a complicated mechanism to obtain diamond concessions in the basins of Galahari and Ghutze, traditional habitats of Bushman tribes, without a risk of a frontal collision with local population protectors. Most of the other new exploration concessions are secured by Tevirs Prospecting Bezzuana (TPB) Ltd.”

He paused briefly, signaling to the colleague to shift the screen.

HUMAN RESOURCES - MIGRATION

“In 2002, forcible evictions of several Bushman communities followed, including Nolabo, which were relocated as a whole. Government officials destroyed a water well and emptied all Bushman water supplies in another Bushman community, as well as banned any hunting and picking. Almost the entire operation area is now being searched for both diamonds and precious metals, with the potential for further encroachment into the area through planned mining activities.”

The lawyer raised his hand interrupting and began to clarify.

“Other indigenous people now known as the Ritersvelders have recently received a historic judgment in South Africa. The Supreme Appellate Court ruled that they are entitled to their land, even though they had never been given title deeds for that land, while the government always assumed that they had no claim over it. Like Khana and Guia, the Ritersvelders live in an area rich in diamonds. This is certainly a concern as the legal system of the Bezzuana state is similar to the one of South Africa.

The development of this case, originally brought to the Appellate Court in 1998, was important to us as well as to the Bezzuana government, due to enormous contingent legal implications for us should the case be decided in their favor.”

“Since the rights of indigenous peoples are regulated in many other countries as well as recognized in international law, should we be concerned that they could jeopardize some of our future profits from this region?“ the chairman asked.

“The resettlement was ordered by the government, not by Tevirs or Tevzzuana, although some of the latter’s directors were present in the decision-making process as senior members of the government. In the Bezzuana’s social order, the Bushmans are not really granted any great rights, and the general attitude of the Bezzuana government towards them could also be named racist. In any case, the Bushmans’ rights have always been considered less important than the wealth derived from diamond mining,” the lawyer replied.

“Bearing in mind these facts, you are saying that no one will be able to claim that diamonds are the main cause of resettlements? Do you believe that the world will believe that the Bezzuana government has decided to evict the Bushmen out of precaution to avoid any problems in the future when diamonds are exploited?” the company chairman asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Yes, sir. In a worst-case scenario, with appropriate agreements and protective measures applied in other countries, they may be allowed to return to their lands and have their rights properly recognized and respected. The paradox is that the Bushmans never claimed the right to the mineral raw materials! So I see no reason to think that eventual excavations may be hindered. Both Tevirs and the government benefit from diamond mining profits. For Tevzzuana, it is at least equally valuable to be keeping those diamond deposits safe in the ground for future use as it is to start with excavations now.”

“Okay, let’s talk about a happier subject. Moving to profit margins,” the President said, giving a word to the chief financial executive, who stood up before he began his presentation.

“The stock exchange transactions project has been completed. Tevirs was removed from the Johannesburg Stock Exchange and transferred to private ownership, so we now have full control of MenngloMericann and Tevirs.”

“You are saying, we are certainly approaching the ultimate controller position of the global diamond business,” the chairman summarized.

“Yes,” the CFO said, then went on. “Tevirs sold another $ 2.3 billion worth of diamonds in the second half of the year after a remarkable 2.8 billion dollars in the first half. So this transition wasn’t too painful for us…” the chief financial executive said with a laugh.

The last words caused a laugh that spread across the conference room like a wave.

Genealogy of the corporation

The President of Tevirs leaned back smugly in a leather chair, filled with a strong feeling that now his father and grandfather would be so proud of him. He felt triumphant, indulging in exciting memories of how his grandfather, father, and finally him, David, have made Tevirs the most successful cartel arrangement in the annals of modern commerce. While other commodities, such as gold, silver, copper, rubber, and grains, have always varied in price relative to economic conditions, diamonds have continued to rise in price every year since the Great Depression in the late 1930s. In fact, it seemed that the cartel was so overwhelmingly in control of supply, demand, and prices - that in the late 1970s even stock market speculators began buying diamonds as protection against volatile inflation and recession.

In the summer of 1938, the owners of Norgan Bank sent a telegram to his grandfather, the founder of the company, to arrange an urgent conference phone call. He knew the bankers needed something from him, even before he called.

“Hi, Mr. Tevirsheimer. This is Jay B., along with the other board members, I hope you’re all right?”

“I’m fine, thanks, and you? How can I help you?”

“Before we get started, we want to highlight the fact that this is a group of friendly people that helped you consolidate the Tevirs financial empire…”

“So…,” Grandpa continued.

“But… at our last board meeting, we were worried about the fall of the price of diamonds in the world. In Europe, where diamond prices have declined during the Depression, there is little opportunity to restore the public demand for diamonds. In Germany, Austria, Italy, and Spain, the idea of giving a diamond engagement ring has never lived. In England and France, diamonds are still deemed jewels for aristocrats, not for the poor masses. Furthermore, Europe is on the verge of war and there is little prospect of expanding diamond sales.”

“That’s right. And?”

“This left the United States as the only true market for Tevirs diamonds. In fact, within the last year, about three-quarters of all diamonds were sold for engagement rings in the United States. However, most of these stones were of lesser quality than those purchased in Europe and had an average price of $ 80 apiece. Therefore, we believe that an advertising campaign could persuade Americans to buy more expensive diamonds.”

“Then how would we execute this idea into action?”

“We strongly recommend Mr. Vauk of the M. V. Ayer agency, which is the leading advertising agency in the United States.”

His grandfather decided to send his son to fulfill this task.

In September 1938, his father, Barry Tevirsheimer, son of the founder of Tevirs and then twenty-eight years old, traveled from Johannesburg to New York to meet with Harold M. Vauk, president of M. V. Ayer.

Tevirsheimer suggested to Vauk at their first meeting, “We want your agency to come up with a plan to create a new perspective about diamonds among Americans.”

Vauk remained silent for a minute, then asked: “Have you contacted any other agency so far?”

His father exclaimed, “I guarantee that Tevirs did not contact any other US advertising agency with this proposal! If my father approves the plans you prepare, MV Ayer would be the exclusive agent for our advertisement campaign in the United States. We also agree to bear the cost of the initial research necessary to develop the campaign.”

Vauk nodded and accepted the offer.

At the next meeting, Ayer’s staff presented the case to his grandfather and father.

“Mr. Tevirsheimer, in our latest survey of the American diamond market, MV Ayer’s staff found that since the end of World War I, the total quantity of diamonds sold in America, in carats, has decreased by 50 percent. We concluded that the depressed state of the diamond market was the result of economics, the promotion of competitive luxury product lines, and a change in social attitude.”

“So how would you approach this situation?”

“While we can do very little to affect the economy, we suggest that we can make a significant impact on the public’s attitude with a well-organized publicity and public relations campaign, thereby directing the US spending toward larger and more expensive diamonds instead of the competitive luxury product lines. In particular, we emphasize the need to strengthen the relationship between diamonds and romance in public. Since young men buy more than 90% of all engagement rings, it would be crucial to incorporate the idea that diamonds are a gift of love: the larger and finer the diamond, the greater the expression of love. Similarly, young women should be encouraged to see diamonds as an integral part of romantic courtship.”

“What’s the next step?” his father asked.

“Because our plan for romanticizing diamonds requires a subtle change in the public’s perspective, we warmly suggest that we take advantage of the relatively new medium of film. Movie idols, paragons of romance for a mass audience, would receive diamonds to use as their symbols of indestructible love. Also, we will offer stories and photos from elite society to selected magazines and newspapers that would strengthen the bond between diamonds and romance. The stories would emphasize the size of the diamonds that celebrities gave to their loved ones, and the photos would strikingly show a glittering stone on the hand of a famous woman. Fashion designers would talk on radio programs about the “diamond trend” that we plan to initiate. Then, we will place a series of lush commercials in the most renowned magazines that are to shape elite opinion, featuring reproductions of famous paintings by such artists as Picasso, Derain, Dali. The commercials are to convey the idea that diamonds, like paintings, are unique works of art.”

“Is that all?”

“The plan also provides a role for the British royal family to help foster the romantic appeal of diamonds. As the UK has an important interest in the development of the diamond industry, a royal couple could be of great help to this British industry by wearing diamonds and no other gems. Queen Elizabeth will later go on a publicly-accompanied trip to several South African diamond mines and will receive the diamonds as a gift in person from Mr. Tevirsheimer.”

1941

The next meeting was held 3 years later, in 1941, in New York, when employees of the advertising agency reported to Tevirs board members: “We have already achieved impressive results in this campaign. Diamond sales have increased 55 percent in the United States since 1938, reversing the previous trend of declining retail sales. This campaign required the conception of a new form of advertising. There was no direct sale. There were no brand names to impress the public. There was simply an idea - an eternal emotional value around the diamond, a new kind of art was devised … and a new color, diamond blue, was created and used in these campaigns…”

“How do we expand this campaign even further?” his father asked.

“We strongly emphasize the psychological approach,” the presenter from the advertising agency continued. “We are dealing with the problem of mass psychology. We want to strengthen the tradition of the diamond engagement ring - to make it a psychological need that could compete successfully at the retail level with communal goods and services… we have identified a target audience of about 70 million people, ages 15 and over, who we hope to make an impact on. We also created a program of lectures in high schools across the country, so the idea of the diamond engagement ring will reach thousands of girls at our leading educational institutions. We will also be organizing a weekly news service called “Hollywood Personalities,” which will be featured in 125 leading newspapers with descriptions of diamonds worn by movie stars, and with celebrity news that portrays diamond rings as symbols of romantic involvement. The idea is to create prestigious “role models” for poor middle-class wages. We spread the word about diamonds worn by screen and stage stars, wives and daughters of political leaders, so that an average man’s wife may wish, “I wish I had what she has.”

“Is there an appropriate slogan that describes this theme of romance and legitimacy?“ his father asked.

The presenter from M. V. Ayer unveiled another presentation on the board, showing the inscription “Diamond is Eternity,” which was inscribed at the bottom below a picture of two young lovers on their honeymoon.

“Why eternity? In fact, diamonds can be broken, altered, or burned into ashes?” one Tevirs representative wondered.

“Because the concept of eternity perfectly captures the magical qualities we want to attach to diamonds. There are at least two important pressures against the idea of a diamond engagement ring. Among the more advanced, there is a sophisticated urge to differentiate themselves from the masses… while lower-income groups would like to get something more notable for their money than the diamond that they can afford… these pressures must be met with a publicity campaign that only the diamond is accepted and recognized as a symbol of engagement everywhere. Within a year, Diamond Is Eternity will become Tevirs’ official motto, through the exploitation of the new medium of television by having actresses and other celebrities wear diamonds when they appear in front of the camera.”

“Did your plan include plan anything else?”

The M. V. Ayer agent added: “We may adjust and use other applicable ideas to the diamond market, such as Thorstein Veblen’s idea stated in Leisure Class Theory that Americans are motivated to buy not by utility but by “visible consumption,” so that a diamond gift can become a much-sought-after symbol of personal and family success”.

1959

Bottles of champagne were popped up at a 1959 meeting of the Executive Committee, attended by board members from Norgan Bank, the M. V. Ayer agency, and Tevirs.

“Twenty years of advertising and public relations campaigning have had a profound successful effect on the American psyche. From 1939, a whole new generation of young people grew into marriage. The diamond ring is considered a necessity for this new generation. The message has managed to impress so much in this generation that those who couldn’t afford diamonds before marriage just postpone their purchases, not give up.”

But it wasn’t just his father’s success. The incumbent president was the one who took over the baton in a relay race to execute international global domination. He remembers well the day he proposed the idea to his father.

“We need to grow this campaign exponentially globally, to seriously internationalize the reinvention of diamonds. With your approval, our main target markets will be Japan, Germany, and Brazil. Until 1959, the post-war Japanese government did not allow diamond imports. Now it is allowing and we have to make a move.”

“I agree. Please make an appointment with Ayer and start developing the campaign,” his father approved of the idea.

“Not with Ayer,” David replied. “Why the hell not? They created this successful campaign.”

“Since M. V. Ayer is primarily an American advertising agency, I want to connect us and G. Thalter Vompson.”

“Why them?” his father asked.

“Because they have particularly strong advertising affiliates in the target countries, I want them to manage most of our international advertising.”

“Ok, bring ‘em on,” his father concurred, pleased with his creative thinking and proactiveness.

The following month, Thalter Vompson’s staff presented the case to them.

“So far, Japanese parents have arranged marriages for their children through trusted mediators. The ceremony was held, according to Shinto law, with the presence of both families where the bride and groom drink rice wine from the same wooden bowl. In Japan, there was no tradition of romance, courtship, seduction or premarital love; and no custom that requires the gift of a diamond engagement ring. Even the fact that millions of US troops have been assigned to military service in Japan over the last decade has not generated much Japanese interest in donating diamonds as a token of love,” an agency representative stopped to show the second part of the advertising campaign on the bulletin board. „G. Thalter Vompson will begin this campaign by suggesting that diamonds are a visible sign of modern Western values and create a series of color advertisements in Japanese magazines that feature beautiful women showing off their diamond rings. All women have Western facial features and wear European attire. Moreover, in most advertisements, women will engage in some activities - such as cycling, camping, yachting, swimming in the ocean, or hiking - that defy Japanese tradition. In the background, there will be a Japanese man, also dressed in modern European clothing. Besides, almost all cars, sports equipment, and other artifacts in the picture will be noticeable foreign imports. The message is clear: diamonds represent a sharp break with the Oriental past and a sign of entering modern life.”

1981

He remembers well the happy face of his father, who, 14 years after, called him to his office that morning in 1981, presenting him an annual narrative and financial report.

“Son, I’m proud of you. The campaign was extremely successful. Japan became the second-largest market, after the United States, in the sale of diamond rings. Within ten years, we were able to exceed even our most optimistic expectations, creating a billion-dollar-a-year diamond market in Japan. When the campaign began in 1967, not even 5 percent of the Japanese had bought a diamond ring before the engagement. By 1981, about 60 percent of Japanese brides were wearing diamonds. At just fourteen years, the 1,500-year Japanese tradition has been radically revised. Diamonds have become Japan’s premier wedding gift.”

“Better yet, their marital customs have survived feudal revolutions, world wars, industrialization, and even the American occupation … but not us,” David said, smiling and pouring whiskey into a glass.

“When it comes to America, it is still the most important market for most of our diamonds, and M. V. Ayer recognized the need to create new demand for diamonds among married couples.”

“How is that?”

“Fur, candy, and flowers are currently being gifted, but such ephemeral gifts do not satisfy a woman’s psychological craving for “restoring romance,” MV Ayer said in their report, seeking permission to begin the long-term process of setting a diamond as the only suitable gift for those anniversaries later in life. They want to launch an advertising campaign to encourage the idea that the gift of another diamond, in the later years of marriage, would be accepted as a sign of ‘growing love’.”

“Well, when are we going to start?”

“I already approved the campaign,” his father said with a victorious smile on his face.

Diamonds prevail the tradition and human rights

October 2002 – Bezzuana

The convention center in the capital of Bezzuana was packed with the multitude interested in the main topic of the conference, entitled HUMAN RIGHTS AND DIAMONDS IN THE 21st CENTURY. The main hall of the convention center was jam full, all seats were taken by journalists, TV media representatives, visitors, and curious people.

A roundtable discussion of representatives of various government and nongovernment organizations and human rights associations was ongoing in the middle of the stage.

“The government and Tevirs denied that resettlements were related to diamond mining,” the spokesman of human rights organization Disbanelo Bezzuana said. “In our independent investigation, we could not find evidence that diamonds were the reason for evictions.”

“Your organization’s research can be questionable. For example, in 1996, less than 12 months before the Bushmans’ total eviction from the Ksade region, you personally, Mr. Disbanelo, stated that reports of planned mass resettlement were exaggerated,” replied a Survive representative, one of another activist organization members that participated in the roundtable. “During the many years of Survive’s first-hand study of this situation, many Bushmans have stated that diamonds are the main reason for efforts to evict them from their region. In 1997, some lawyers from South Africa who did not want to be named in this case because they were denied entry into the country said that the forceful relocation of Bushmen by the Bezzuana authorities was carried out in such a way as to ensure that the Bushmans were not entitled to the mineral wealth of the reservations. A human rights defender who asked not to be named, who dealt with land disputes for the Bushmans, was quoted in 1998 as saying he was convinced that the diamond mining potential was the reason why the Bezzuana government was so adamant about removing Bushmans. In 1999, a journalist for Business Week stated that some political observers believed there was a link between the resettlement of hundreds of Basarva tribal members in 1997 from the reservation and the recent rise in mining operations. Critics claim the Basarva tribes were evicted to prevent them from claiming rights to the diamonds beneath their land.”

“There is reasonable suspicion that the Basarwa community has been evicted from the region to make room for diamond mining,” said Motis Agabe, the Bezzuana Hotel and Tourism Association Director. “These arguments that resettlements will help the development of Bushman tribal communities are very weak because it is now clear to everyone that the government’s intentions are not humanitarian in this regard. In fact, the motives behind their actions are concealed and hypocritical. The real intent behind this forced removal is now a public secret.” he paused for effect and raised the tone. “The Kope Region is a rich area endowed with natural resources, minerals, and diamonds.”

“Many journalists from multiple countries reported on the situation after visiting the area,” said an activist across the table. “Some have concluded that diamonds were the cause of the resettlement, reporting that the prime minister was forcing them to leave the country that the British colonial authorities had forever ceded to the Bushmans. Diamonds, the curse of modern Africa, have been discovered beneath their hunting grounds, and they are worth far more to the prime minister and the government than the human cultural treasures lasting for 10 or more Bollennia,” he paused, hearing several voices of protest. “The Bushmans informed Survive that the district commissioner had told them that they had been relocated because people had to be relocated if diamonds were found in some area.”

“You speak as if you were present at government meetings that you have never attended,” exclaimed a journalist from the pro-government newspaper Bezzuana Gazette. “No one but a few people in the upper levels of government understand the main reasons for the resettlement.”

“It goes without saying for anyone who wants to think a little bit about it,” another Survive activist retorted. “Therefore, it has long been clear that, although the government officially seeks to maintain an animal reservation for wildlife conservation, it actually strives with a parallel ambition to achieve more excavations of mineral resources in this area.”

A young boy from the Bezzuana Youth League raised his hand and took the discussion over.

“The real reason why the Basarwas were forcibly removed from their ancestral lands is to pave the way for Tevzzuana and its diamond mining in the area without giving any compensation to the Basarwas as the landowners. In 1997, a report came out saying the government needed to protect mineral deposits, denying forcible evictions. In August 2000, Minister for Energy, Minerals, and Water, Voomecve Nogodu, told the district council that plans to open a diamond mine in Kope were at an advanced stage. In February 2002, he said that companies were exploring in the Kope region and that it may become necessary to establish permanent structures there.”

Mr. Erike Novale coughed and spoke loudly, “My name is Erike Novale. For those who do not know, I am the secretary at the Ministry of Local Government. When it comes to evictions, I must state that, following the existing Statute, the Wildlife and National Parks Act and the National Settlement Policy, the Government has always encouraged and stimulated the resettlement of its citizens if there is evidence of incompatibility of land use between competing users or in legal cases where citizens have to give up land because of events of national importance,” he looked complacently and continued. “We must emphasize that this was not the first resettlement exercise. Take a look, for example, at the Jvaneng area where people were relocated to give way to projects of national interest.”

“Jvaneng is a diamond mine,” a voice from the back of the audience yelled, causing a loud laugh in it.

The widespread laugh and mockery bothered the ministry representative but he managed to restrain himself and went on to explain in more detail. “Officially, while we still claim that there were no plans to excavate diamonds at Kope, we must understand that the government reserves the right to excavate any resource wherever deemed appropriate or necessary.”

“There are no official plans for diamonds excavations at Kope?” the Survive representative asked in sheer disbelief.

“Yes, sir, there are no official plans” the government representative replied calmly and steadily.

“How is it then possible that in February 2001, representatives of the Survive Organization met with Secretary of the Tevzzuana Group Shala Gam and the Government Minister of Mining Pivson Wavon, to discuss the handling of Bushmans in the Kope region?” another Survive activist asked, but as his question resulted with no answers or comment, he continued. “No comment? Okay, then I’ll go on. So, during that meeting, the Minister of Mining repeatedly inquired about the rights of indigenous peoples to use of minerals in other countries. You will agree that it was a series of pointless questions if there were no plans for excavation on Bushman land in this region, right? Likewise, Tevirs did not provide recent concession maps to reporters or Survive International, despite being asked to do so repeatedly! In recent years, they have duly delivered these concession maps to journalists,” the activist organization representative replied in a brisk tone. “Many of the arguments presented by Tevirs, such as that there were no Bushmen located there at the time when the explorations began, that no one should be relocated, that the mine would provide significant employment for the local inhabitants, and similar nonsense, contradict studies commissioned by the company itself. President of Tevirs visited Cope in 2002. What was he doing there anyway? A pointless journey if the discovery of diamonds there is not considered profitable, right? The company still insists, wrongly, of course, that there were no Bushman people on Kope, just as the government does, so it is ridiculous to claim that the Kope mine will not be excavated.”

An activist at the end of the table followed the words of her colleague.

“In November 2002, Tevirs’ lawyers sent a threatening letter to our organization, which, by the way, was also delivered to the Charity Committee for England and Wales. The letter stated that Survive should cancel a planned protest in front of a Tevirs’ new diamond store. In 33 years of our organization’s work, this was the first legal threat it has ever received from a company that exploits resources on tribal land. The High Commissioner of the Bezzuana Embassy in London wrote an aggressive letter about our organization addressing it to the same Committee on the same day. Also, Dep. chairman of Tevzzuana alleged us a terrorist organization for our work in supporting Bushmans’ right to their land. He also claimed that Survive had forged government maps, while we received those maps from the official state land registry.”

The Government representative cleared his throat looking at the note cards in front of him, as he felt a need to stand for himself. “Even if the forceful removal of Bushman people had taken place, it was justified for the Government to remove the Basarwa tribes from the Reservation. Sir, it is justifiable for the Government to take such action if it is forced to do so. What would you like us to do? To stay in the dark ages, going backward as the rest of the world progresses? Come on, be reasonable a little.”

“Bushman’s relocation and setting up resettlement camps cost millions of dollars. The government did not provide them any acceptable reason. After we at the Survive organization spent more than two years inquiring Tevirs about its policies on indigenous peoples, the company finally responded by telling us that the ideology of indigenous rights was based on the same dismissed social theory that justifies apartheid. Tevirs, therefore, equates the struggle for human rights of indigenous tribes with the denial of rights to South Africans of African and Asian descent. One of the four anthropologists cited by Tevirs to support this controversial idea, Professor Imsilver, told Survive, “I do not recognize as my own those views as attributed to me in the Tevirs’ statement.,” the activist replied, receiving brief applause from the audience.

Tevirs reopens diamond mining negotiations in Engola

November 1, 2002 - Directorate of state-owned company Mtiama

Two delegations sat in the conference room on opposite sides of a large conference table.

“We came here to start negotiations with the Engolan government on the resumption of diamond mining and we brought terms of a new contract with the state mining firm Mtiama,” a Tevirs representative said as he looked around the room.

The leading representative of the government-owned company Mtiama delegation had the opening address.

“Foreign mining companies, including ALROZA and Tevirs, want to return to Engola, after the ceasefire in April 2002 ended a 27-year civil war between the government and UNITA rebels, who funded their campaign partly through the sale of the conflict diamonds. Our first question relates to the use of those rebel diamonds. In a new report on the Engolan sanctions, Tevirs was asked to declare whether it had UNITA rebel diamonds in its stock. It is public information that Tevirs made record sales last year from its inventories, which could include gems obtained from UNITA terrorists”

“Tevirs stuck to the UN ban on the UNITA diamonds and last month declared an ethical commitment that our jewels have no origin related to the rebels,” a Tevirs representative replied at once.

“In your ethical statements, the emphasis was on the origin of the current purchases, which circumvents the critical question of the origin of diamonds involved in the sales after the fall of the sanctions. The question is, could these diamonds from stocks acquired by Tevirs through other dealers, that is, brokers, originate from UNITA?” a Mtiama representative asked, opening the file, and then continued. “It is unclear whether a part of the Tevirs’ last year’s record earnings came from such sources. Engolan diamonds, among the best in the world, are easily identifiable. It is believed that diamonds produced in the UNITA-controlled Kuango Valley were also in Tevirs’ because, according to the report, Tevirs managed to sell about $ 2 billion worth of other precious stones during a 15-month recession before the fall of the sanctions.”

“We never purchased diamonds directly from UNITA,” Trassie Beterss, the senior communications officer for Tevirs, replied calmly and steadily. Pregnant silence arouses in the conference room.

“I suppose this is an acceptable answer,” said the head of the government delegation, seeking signs of approval in participants on either side of the table.

Beterss smiled discreetly and continued discussion. “As you all know, Tevirs discontinued our investment in Engola in May 2001 after coming to a stalemate position with the government. There is a longstanding dispute of when Mtiama will repay Tevirs the $ 50 million loan, and now the loan has accrued an additional $ 40 million of interest. Tevirs’ rights to excavation and marketing of diamonds are also in circulation. To represent our positive expectations, the formal arbitration proceedings before Engolan Courts has been suspended for the duration of negotiations between our two parties.”

The government representative nodded in agreement. “On this occasion, we would like to emphasize the importance of potential reserves. So, Engola is the fourth largest diamond producer in the world, with an estimated reserve of 180 million carats. Diamond production is thought to generate $ 650 million a year, although illegal production and smuggling significantly decrease these figures. Engola officially produced an estimated 5.1 million carats of diamonds in 2001. However, we all know that Mtiama depends on Tevirs for technical expertise required for deep mining operations.”

“We are delighted to be able to return to Engola when the terms of the new contract are clarified,” Betersss said with a satisfied smile. “Can December 31 be set for the conclusion of the negotiations and February 28 as the secondary closing date for the start of the project?”

Mtiama representatives unanimously agreed while Beterss relaxed in the chair with a victorious smile on her lips.

Public statement

December 2002

The big screen of a plasma TV broadcast a press conference with Tevirs and Mtiama in the conference room of the Engolan Presidential Palace. The joint statement was read from a piece of paper in front of a crowd of journalists and TV crews.

“… We are pleased to announce that talks on new contracts and concessions have gone well. Mtiama and Tevirs reiterate their commitment to continue to act in good faith and to the benefit of the Engolan diamond industry…”

The Tevirs spokeswoman calmly acted with a set of microphones in front of her. “We plan to continue selling all the diamonds produced in the new joint venture with the state-owned diamond mine Mtiama in Engola early next year.”

“What happened to the ESCOM contract?” a reporter shouted from the crowd.

The government representative approached the microphones, as he felt competent to answer the question. “Mtiama controls again all official aspects of the Engola diamond industry. ESCOM, a joint venture selling all Engolan diamonds since November 1999, will lose its monopoly in mid-January 2003. ESCOM did not return sufficient revenue from its monopoly, as it reported an 87% drop in annual profits last year. Tevirs controls about 65% of the world’s $ 8 billion rough diamond market and we are glad to work together with them again,” the representative said, reassuring reporters by raising his hand before continuing. “The Engolan government has approved changes to its diamond sector, including the abolition of the four-year monopoly of ESCOM, a state-controlled diamond marketing firm. The creation of ESCOM by the government has been a remarkable policy for the fight against ‘bloody diamonds’. Now the country is at peace and normalized, so the Engolan diamond market can reopen. ESCOM will now reserve the right to purchase diamonds produced in the informal sector by miners and small producers but will compete with other private companies for this market. The system that has yet to be defined will control the sale of these diamonds in the international market. State-owned SODIAM, owning 51 percent of ESCOM, will take over the marketing of gems produced by major formal sector manufacturers, but will do so in partnership with domestic and foreign companies, creating a state-regulated semi-open market. In its first move to end ESCOM’s monopoly and add value to the local diamond industry, the government has approved a plan to build a new diamond cutting plant of more than $ 5 million worth within three years. This will create an internal market for cut diamonds, Engolans will receive specialist training, which will create a diamond processing industry in this part of the world.”

Pouch with diamonds

President Blues took the remote control and turned off the television, watching his infatuating secretary in a tight mini skirt who waved her hips seductively, carrying cups of coffee and whiskey.

“Thanks, cutie,” the president said, winking at her. Green did not miss her smile, which revealed beautiful white teeth, and as she disappeared behind closed doors, President Blues was already stirring sugar in his coffee.

“You have handsome staff around here, President Blues,” Green coughed.

The President smiled, and asked Green, “Now, is the picture more clear when you read the reports?”

“Diamond wars… and you’re good at swimming with those alligators in the pond,” Green replied.

„They think they deal with primitive, corrupt politicians like my predecessors, which can be bought for a handful of dollars,” Blues said. „I mean, of course, I’m interested in dollars, but I want to be the one to control the game, not them. I choose my partners according to my interests not as it suits them best.“

„You mean, according to interests of the people and the state?” Green asked, sneering.

„That too,” the President also grinned showing his white teeth. 

“Only, I wouldn’t keep you away from your duties, I see you’re very busy. So I thought I’d leave you alone, go to the hotel to freshen up… of course after the payment.”

President Blues smiled and looked at a Green he didn’t know. Pale and sleepless in his face, with tousled hair and wrinkled clothes, he did not resemble the once-powerful operative of the strongest security agency in the state that was the leader of the non-aligned bloc, an ideal many relied on and followed.

“So why are you in such a hurry, Green? Don’t worry about all this shit you just saw on TV, we have all the time in the world!”

“I’m very tired. The journey by boat was long and arduous. I would go to the hotel to rest and freshen up, so maybe I’ll see you later.”

“Okay, when you say so and want so,” the President Blues said a little disappointed, leaning down to open the bottom drawer of the oak desk. With a gentle hand gesture, he threw something at Green, who reflexively grabbed the thrown object.

He looked at what he had in his hand and saw a leather pouch with some small pebbles inside.

“What’s this?” Green asked, looking the president in the eye.

“What’s that?” the President Blues had a sweet laugh. “Well, diamonds!”

“What do I need these diamonds for?” Green asked confusedly.

“It’s your payment for the shipment.”

“But what can I do with it! We’ve always made cash payments before!”

“Cash is difficult to convey and draws attention. Diamonds are of very high value, in small bags under the table like this they are the global black market currency if you didn’t know, and I can see you didn’t.”

“I know, but I counted on cash payment,” he said, not looking happy about the small leather pouch, looking at it carefully from all sides.

“Green, owning diamonds is perfect storage of illicit wealth for the unscrupulous like us,” Blues said leaning across the table. “Diamonds are good value, easily hidden commodities favored by arms dealers, smugglers, and criminals of all kinds. With a few diamonds you can buy a full boat of drugs in Colombia,” he said with a laugh. “Now any cash payment over €15,000 must be monitored electronically. And who controls the diamonds? Nobody!” The Blues finished triumphantly, stroking his chin, looking him straight in the eye. “I gave you ten times the value of the shipments compared to its real worth, if I paid it in cash… as a token of the good old days,” Blues said, walking away from the table, taking Cuban cigars from another drawer.


Chapter 4

How to sell diamonds

(Old Panthers: Societe General, Nice 1976, Gardner museum, Boston 1990, Carlton-Ritz, Cannes 1994)

Green returns from Africa

January 2003

The paved streets of the small town of Vicenza echoed under his footsteps on a quiet winter afternoon. He loved Italy, its culture, and the way of life. After a recent trip to the heart of the African continent, he was entirely happy breathing the air of civilization of the continent he loved most, Europe.

The smell of coffee and croissants in the fresh air awoke his senses, as well as his hunger. He opted for a discreet restaurant not far from downtown. With his keen eye for detail, he soon realized that the restaurant staff had family ties among themselves, which at once made him even fonder of the place. He ordered the house specialty from an elderly lady, most likely the mother, and couldn’t resist the recommendation of local wine from nearby vineyards.

He dined in peace, with the discreet sound of Italian chansons, and at that moment he felt fulfilled and above all, happy. Moving in his chair, he felt the weight of the leather pouch in his trousers pocket, causing him the discomfort he had managed to forget in these precious moments. Only one man could help him, and he was in Vicenza. His worry made him frown and spoiled the pleasure of his just-finished meal.

“Do you want anything else?” a pleasant female voice in Italian conveyed him from his thoughtfulness.

“No, thanks. I would just like the bill, please,” Green replied in perfect Italian.

He took out a few banknotes and left them on the billing tab. Coming out into the fresh night air, he squeezed his coat tighter around and headed off to the castle.

He had to admit to himself that Stony had style. Although newly built, the ground floor restaurant and first-floor nightclub perfectly fit the style of the old castle. The restaurant was half-empty which caught his eye and then he remembered it was Monday.

He walked into a nice air-conditioned space and was greeted by a waiter with a menu. Although he spoke kindly to him in Italian, Green ignored him, looking around for Stony. He turned on his heels and went out without saying a word, listening to the muffled Balkan music from the first floor. Despite the facility and environment beauty, the sounds of the turbo-folk from his homeland spoiled the impression.

“Fucking Balkan’s riffraff,” Green mumbled, shaking his head as he climbed the wide stairs.

He was greeted in front of the main entrance by two security guards wearing identical black discreet suits. After only a few seconds of listening to the Serbian language, he realized that they were retelling the impressions of Sunday’s Juventus match.

“Good evening,” he nodded to the lads, interrupting their conversation.

“Good evening, pop. What’re you up to?” a short-haired young man with muscular build asked.

“I came for a visit.”

“It’s a private party night today… and aren’t you a little old for hip-hop this late, pops?” the guard said while chewing gum in his mouth.

“I’m looking for Stony.”

“My colleague’s just told you, it’s a private party tonight,” another, much taller and stronger guard said.

“Come on, go inside and tell him that Green is looking for him,” he said, staring at the tall young man without blinking. A moment later, the senior guard turned and entered the club.

Green stared at the other guard too, who looked down. Not a minute after that, Stony came out in a tattered shirt, all cheerful for seeing him.

“So where have you been, Green! Are my eyes really seeing you?!” Stony exclaimed, hugging him warmly. “Let’s go inside!”

He tapped his shoulder out of pure joy as they walked toward the glazed balcony, pushing their way through a small crowd of young people.

In a remote and lonely corner, they sat on a comfortable white sofa, where a beautiful and young waitress awaited them.

“So, Green, are we going for Irish coffee like we used to?” Stony winked, managing to make him laugh. “Pretty, bring two glasses and ‘Johnnie Walker'.’

“I see you’re doing fine when you don’t dig tunnels and rob banks on Fridays,” Green said teasingly.

“Come on, it’s been ages. But, well, don’t get me wrong, I thought the envelope times were over a long time ago.”

Green hadn’t seen this man he needed for years. He stared out the window at the rare one-way traffic up to the castle and wandered memories of the day he had met him, Stony, almost thirty years ago.

Stony

Right upon completing high school, Stony began making petty burglaries, car thefts, but this was not enough for his fast-growing appetite. He soon came up with an idea to rob a bank, and after careful planning, he would quit at the very last moment. So he has been seven times in a row until he grew determination and did his first bank, using a stolen car to escape. After the first robbery, he found the courage he had lacked all along, and by thorough planning, he developed a unique bank robbery modus operandi, leaving police officers helpless in search of the perpetrator.

He first looked for banks in small towns with easy and fast access to a superhighway, and then narrowed his search even further to banks with late closing times, especially in the autumn and winter months when darkness was his biggest ally on the run. Once he found a perfect target, he would choose Friday as the day of execution, necessarily wearing a Santa Claus mask, which is where the famous nickname “Friday Night-Santa-Robber” came from.

He would rush into a bank like a whirlwind five minutes before closing time when there were the least people in the bank. An explosive jump over the counter would scare staff and, within less than two minutes, under threat with weapons, he would clear the cash registers and escape under the auspices of the night to a nearby woods that he had previously explored in detail. A bicycle would be waiting for him at a certain point in the woods near the place where the deed was committed. In the already prepared secluded spot next to the bicycle, he would leave everything connected to the robbery, including money, and would ride a few kilometers by bicycle to another part of the forest where a parked van was waiting for him in solitude. He would drop his bike and drive home. Being disciplined, he would wait for a few weeks for the dust to settle and when life returned to normalcy, he would go to his hiding place and take his loot.

Over time, he had several hiding places scattered throughout woods in that region, and he could enjoy perfectly done looting, but despite detailed planning and precise execution, he could not influence only one element of everything, the factor of luck. It betrayed him when two boys were playing in the woods and found one of his hiding places loaded with weapons, ammunition, and Santa’s masks with his fingerprints, enough evidence for his arrest and trial for the robbery of five banks and a potential sentence of 17 years in prison.

Green remembered his popularity very well at the time and there was something in his mode of work that caught his attention. To him, as an intelligence officer, all doors opened with ease, and so did the grated ones. He decided to meet this famous bank robber in person. At his office, two of his strongest operatives conducted the man-rock of Stony and pointed him to a chair across Green, who looked him up and down in silence, without taking his eyes off him. Green sensed his embarrassment.

“Are you for one Irish coffee?” Green said at last.

“Irish?” Stony wondered.

“Yes, Irish coffee. You pour whiskey into a cup of black coffee and drink all day long without anyone noticing that you are hammering alcohol,” Green said seriously. “I would love to have one if I were you, since, where you’ll end up for 17 years, no whiskey there… and no coffee.”

“Well, come on, okay.”

Green opened a small cabinet and took two cups and a bottle of whiskey.

“Well, let’s have it Irish, but without coffee this time,” Green smiled. “You ripped banks off banknotes so easily. There’s something in your style that attracts attention, apart from the Santa mask, which sure is a very funny detail,” he said, sneering at his face, trying to get a reaction out of the arrested man, which was yet missing. Stony’s face remained expressionless.

“Who are you?” Stony said through his teeth.

“You know very well who I am. Your kind of person is an ideal executor of certain assignments that a man of your qualities could easily accomplish,” Green said, leaning forward. “You have two options, Stony. The first is to spend the next 17 years of your life in prison, or you could do some tasks for the state here and then, and in return, you get our protection, new identity and freedom to do what you want anywhere in the world.”

Silence followed Green’s words. He knew there was a nightmare going on in the man’s head.

“What kind of tasks?”

“There are quite a few, but the tasks meant for guys like you are liquidations of anti-state elements, ultranationalists, and political opponents,” he said and waited for the words to root in his head.

“I don’t know who you are,” Stony said after a few moments, “but I’m being tried for robbery, not murder. I’m no killer.”

“I know you’re not, but why not expand horizons? It’s your choice, either a fifteen days’ chore and full freedom with a new identity… or toil in prison for fifteen years or more. Of course, it’s your decision.”

Stony sighed deeply. “You got a cigarette?”

“Of course,” he nodded and took a soft Marlboro pack and a lighter. Green offered him the pack to pick one and lit him up a cigarette. He also took one for himself.

“So, I zap an unfortunate guy and then you let me go?” Stony asked, blowing out the smoke.

“It’s one or maybe a few more jobs per year. The jobs are done abroad, mostly in Europe.”

“A hitman,” Stony’s facial muscles twitched. “What if I fall, if foreign police get hold of me?”

“In that case, our police issues an international warrant for your extradition for crimes committed on our soil. You would be handed over to our federal police, and there we take you over, give you a new passport and the freedom to move freely and engage in crime around Europe, or the world, where you like,” Green said, taking a sip that felt perfectly with his cigarette.

Stony sighed and shrugged his broad shoulders.

“Who’s the target?”

Green smiled briefly, expecting the question. Not at all surprised, he reached for his jacket slung over his chair and removed a blue envelope from his inner pocket and dropped it on the table in front of Stony.

“Enver is an Albanian separatist and human rights activist. He fled to Belgium in 1972. Initially, he was very active in the separatist movement, and later, he formed the Human Rights Committee in Belgium.” Green replied and reached for the bottle, filling both of their cups. “It needs to be resolved before he submits a detailed report to the UN Human Rights Council in New York next month,” he said and took a sip of whiskey.

“Should I find and destroy the report too?”

“Oh, no,” he shook his head. “Just Enver. Open the envelope, it contains everything you need to know. You also have a photo to remember the target well.”

Stony slowly opened the envelope and pulled out a black and white photo. He looked into the eyes of the man whom he had to deprive of his life and quickly stored the image back among two sheets of paper.

“OK. I’m in for it. ” Stony said in a low voice.

“You made a wise decision. We have nothing to wait for. Now you first go for accelerated training in firearm handling and other techniques, and when you are ready, you will receive a new passport with which you will be transferred to Belgium. In the future, when you are handed an envelope, you will know what to do.”

One week later, he was welcomed by a driver at a bus station in Belgium. Instead of a special agent at full strength, as he imagined his Belgian contact, he was greeted by an old baldhead with jam-jar glasses, dressed in an unobtrusive checkered light-colored suit.

“Stony?” the old man said to him.

“Yes,” said Stony, fighting the urge to laugh.

“What are you staring at like a stuck pig? Have you perhaps expected James Bond? Come on, I parked close by,” the codger said, nodding toward the parking lot across the street. “Popped the cherry yet?”

“What?” Stony looked at him confusedly, thinking the question was some kind of code he missed at his training camp.

“Are you a unicorn? Is this your first time?” the codger said a little nervously.

“Ah yes. It is.”

“Just remember what they taught you in training and don’t think too much. You just pull the trigger and you’re done. If you think too much, your head will be sore.”

The white Opel Cadet was an unobtrusive vehicle across Europe. He drove him first to his apartment to freshen up, and then the codger suggested they go to Enver’s building.

“You didn’t tell me your name,” Stony said as they rode through the city streets.

“Why does it matter?” the codger looked at him, taking the key from the inside pocket of his jacket. “This is the key to the front door of the building. Every day Enver comes home at half-past four in the afternoon, always looking into the mailbox before heading off to his apartment on the second floor. That’s the moment you’re bumping him off. The hallway is not large, there is a staircase right next to the front door. You will go down to the basement and there you’ll wait for him. It’s dark enough for him not to notice you. When he comes in and goes to the mailbox, then you do him with one bullet into the occiput, as you were taught in the training camp. I’ll wait for you where I park right now and drive you to the flat once you’ve done what you’re supposed to, and the day after you’re outie for Germany. When you cross the border, you’re on your own, free to go where you want. Don’t forget to contact your mentor regularly and report every change of address, in case there is another envelope for you,” the codger said, turning right into the parking lot of a large building.

“There we are,” he turned off his car and looked at his watch. “It’s two in the afternoon. Go to the hallway and get acquainted with the interior, so when you come back, we may go eat something, hunger’s killing me. We will be back at four, just before the piece of shit arrives.”

Stony got out of the car and went around the building hallway as he was told. Everything seemed the same as the codger described, he even found the mailbox with Enver’s name. He felt nothing by looking at the written name. He descended a dozen steps down to the basement entrance where it was already dark this early in the afternoon. Then he went back to the car.

Ten minutes later, in a nearby shopping mall, with two food trays, they sat surrounded by people and children. The codger devoured burgers as if he hadn’t eaten for five days. Stony was surprised by the old man’s appetite.

“My wife makes me eat healthily,” he said as if apologizing. “So when I have tasks for the state to do, I take the opportunity that I’m far from the dragon.”

Stony couldn’t resist laughing briefly. “Why are you hiding from your woman?”

“She loves me, it’s all clear, heck. She’d go mad if she saw me now. Blood pressure is fucking me, and the ticker too, my medical record is as thick as a school class record, nevertheless, it’s still thinner than the other one,” the codger winked to him.

“What another one?”

“The one that brought you here too.”

“Ah, criminal you mean?” Stony had a sweet laugh.

“Nah, heck,” the codger said, and they both giggled. “Usually, I don’t give a fuck, but you seem like a nice guy so far. How did you get here?”

“I played Santa too much.”

“What the heck Santa now?” the codger frowned and then his eyes became as big as donuts. “Aw, you’re the one who jacked banks on Friday nights!” he exclaimed enthusiastically. “It’s nice to be in company with a celebrity. I read about you. Fuck, what a stroke of bad luck that kids should scoff at you like that.”

“Fuck it, it’s not the kids’ fault, I’m not mad at them. It happens. I got fucked by the luck factor.”

“Who knows what’s that good for, son. That’s what our people say.”

After refreshing, they chatted for a while before returning to Enver’s building. Codger tucked his arm under the car seat and pulled out an automatic silencer handgun.

“If it was out in the open, God may help, but if you did him in the building hallway without a silencer, it would attract the whole curious residential district plus your ears would be ringing for two weeks. Fortunately, Enver would not have these difficulties,” the codger said, managing to make him laugh even in such a distressful situation. “The crazy Kraut bitch from the fifth floor would call police at once, she calls them every now and then for every prick, one can’t even play our folk songs and have a little fun.”

“You know this building very well,” Stony remarked.

“Of course, when I live in it,” the codger said. “Come on, it’s almost four, get out. The sooner we get to it, the sooner we’ll be done with this.”

Stony put the handgun under his jacket and sighed deeply before getting out of the car.

As he told him on another occasion, Stony could not even remember the moment when he zapped him, just the image stayed in his head of his body lying on the floor with the blood-splattered newspaper rolled in his hand.

Shortly thereafter, Stony tried to live a ‘normal’ life and began practicing photography, opening a photography studio in France, but soon returned to what he knew best, that is, crime, where he regained his fame as if he had intended to leave a historical marker there.

He connected with top French underground professionals, they planned and executed a robbery of Societe Generale bank in Nice in 1976, which gained them fame because of the way it was executed.

Upon getting information that the bank vault was in the basement, Stony suggested that they come to the vault via the sewer system by digging a tunnel under the strongroom. With his ideas and innovative spirit, he gained the respect of the entire gang, especially from the gang leader. To be sure the job would be successful, the gang leader opened an account and rented a safe box in the vault and set an alarm clock to ring at midnight. That night at midnight, parked in front of the bank, they listened carefully and were glad to hear only silence. The vault had neither acoustic nor seismic detectors. The French considered it an impenetrable vault.

For the next two months, avoiding alcohol and coffee and sleeping for regular ten hours during the daytime, the gang was digging their way through and reached the foundations of the bank’s basement. On Bastille Day, a big and noisy festival, the bank was closed for an extended weekend and ready to be attacked. The noise of drilling the last concrete barrier was muffled by the joy from the streets. Stony and the gang were in no hurry. They opened more than four hundred safe deposit boxes and left with the loot of over 60 million francs worth in bills, securities, and valuables. At the beginning of the next week, on reopening the bank, they encountered a shock and a message on the wall of the vault that read ‘Sans armes, ni haine, ni violence’, or, translated, ‘Without arms, neither hatred nor violence’.

Police were unsuccessful in catching them until they eventually arrested one of the gang after he had been betrayed by an ex-girlfriend. During the interrogation, he eventually admitted and snitched on the other members of the gang, again placing Stony behind bars, who did not lose his spirit nevertheless. On the day of the trial, he presented a fictitious encrypted document, screaming that he had not even been in Nice during the festival. As the judge examined the document in silence, which attracted the attention of all those in attendance, including the guards, it was just what Stony wanted. He jumped like a cheetah from the bench and in two steps was by the window from which he jumped without thinking twice on the roof of a car parked below. A motorcycle with a driver was waiting for him and they drove together in an unidentified direction.

The police never found out the location of his part of the robbery loot, and that is why they prepared extra years of service for him, but he managed to get away from the jaws of the French penal system and settled in Italy. He enjoyed the freedom and the new identity that Green provided for him, at the price of new envelopes. He eventually settled down, opening a restaurant above Vicenza in a beautiful rustic castle, occasionally doing some robberies or other crimes.

A pretty waitress startled Green from remembrance. She left a small tray on the table and went swaying her hips, while Stony poured two whiskeys. They clinked and quaffed their glasses.

“And it is over. I’m here for other reasons,” Green said, noticing relief on Stony.

“Whatever, pal.”

“I’ve come here for ice.”

Stony shook his head after the whiskey. “Buying or selling?”

“I need contacts in both directions. I lost contact with the American group. Are you still in touch with Voyo and Alexander?”

“The group has been retired since 1990. Voyo holds one of the best restaurants in Beverly Hills with a business partner, but in essence, it’s just a screen for reselling football players in Europe. And Alexander bangs the wife of their last big deal orderer, a playboy bunny married to an American billionaire from Boston.”

“Messing around eventually makes the shit hit the fan”.

“Yes, while bonking with another man’s woman in the Balkans means playing with one’s life, in Yanks it’s rather normal though. Alexander worked as a security guard in one of the night clubs and this bunny had been throwing herself at him for months, flirting, harassing him like a tigress, and of course, he let himself go, even though he knew whose wife she was. She took him to the dressing room, stripped him off, so he started shagging her like a maniac because she had been cock-teasing him for months until he noticed a geezer among the wardrobe coats. He told me this almost made his ticker stop. He started putting his clothes on to run away, but the bunny stopped him, quickly explaining to him that it was some kind of their fetish, because her old crock likes to watch as his sweetheart is being dismantled into pieces. Alexander, wacky as he is, has accepted the game, and so they have created some kind of a goofy triangle, where he fucks her brains out of her at the geezer’s mansion while the geezer watches them. Madman, what can I tell you.”

“He’s always been crazy though.”

“Totally, I’m telling you,” Stony said. “So once, after let’s say their triangle session, the little company got drunk and the old crock started talking crap how he had all the money of the world, but his lifetime wish was to have some artistic paintings that are not for sale, fuck it. Word by word, and the geezer and his wife started persuading him to loot those artworks from a museum. They offered him a million dollars.”

“And did he agree?” Green inquired, getting interested in the story.

“Nah,” Stony said, pouring another whiskey. “He asked for two million then!”

“And the geezer told him to fuck off?”

“Nooo… the geezer accepted it, without saying ‘fuck it’. Alexander went into action at once and called Voyo, they started prepping for this job right away. It was the Gardner Museum. About one o’clock after midnight of March 18, 1990, disguised as cops, they reached a museum’s side entrance by car and pressed on the doorbell real hard. They referred to the rush claim, telling the guard they responded to a burglary alarm. This is where the duty guard broke the protocol and let them enter. This one and the other guard were handcuffed at once and detained in the basement of the museum while the guys got down to it. They took priceless works directly off the walls, in total 13 works of art and a Chinese bronze vessel from the Shang Dynasty. They also tried to unscrew Napoleon’s flag off the wall but to no avail, so they took Napoleon’s eagle coat of arms instead. They brought all those works to the car several times in succession, and it took them 81 minutes to complete the work, at 2.45 in the morning they were gone. The guards were discovered by police at 8.15 AM the next morning. This robbery continues to be considered the largest unsolved artwork robbery in the world’s history,” Stony said respectfully.

“So, happily over. Payment and retirement, right?”

“Like fuck, over,” Stony said, laughing. “Our heroes were not exactly adept about artworks. The most expensive museum specimen, the painting of Titian remained intact. They mixed him up with another painter. Needless to say, the geezer was most crazy about that Titian painting,” Stony laughed his head off. “The geezer’s ticker almost kicked off, he lost his mind, effing and blinding them like hell. He brought them a photo of that fucking Titian and rubbed their noses in it, and Alex exchanged glances with Voyo and said, ‘Brother, this is all the same fucking shit to me, why’s this guy fussing so much.

“Aaahhah, fuck!” he infected Green with laughter too.

“Living hell, bro, the woman calming him down, the old crock screaming he won’t pay anything.”

“So how did they convince him to pay them?”

“The playboy bunny solved the situation. She convinced him it was also a big deal to have the other paintings, while it wouldn’t be wise not to pay, lest our heroes would start singing, which would never have happened anyway. But, they did the job superbly indeed, with no traces. Americans were pissed off, particularly the FBI. They searched homes and basements of usual suspects from east to west coast. Nothing. Fuck, how would they find the booty when the artworks were biding time in private rooms of a billionaire who, by the way, happens to be one of the largest donors of the very same museum. The geezer didn’t want those paintings for sale or profit but for personal use. Today the empty frames are still there in the museum as symbols of hope for their return.”

Green frowned. “I seem to have read about it. Wasn’t the value of those paintings about $ 500 million?”

“More bro, almost a billion! Vermeer’s painting ‘The concert’ alone is 500 million worth.”

“How do you know the whole story?”

“Voyo’s son told me, he paid a visit here recently… The kid is a producer now, he wanted to record a show about us, about that ancient gang having scattered around the world. I refused, we, the old guard, are not interested in fame,” Stony said, swigging his whiskey. “…As for your question, my crew and I don’t work with ice.”

“Oh, really?” Green looked at him inquisitively. “And what about the 1994 robbery?”

“Which robbery?” Stony grinned and giggled. “There were several jobs that year.”

“The one you did at the Carlton-Ritz Hotel on the Cote d’Azur in Cannes.”

“Ah, that one,” Stony exclaimed, pouring them another whiskey. “Now that you mention it, I remember an old agent from Belgium and his advice, ’Never lie to them. Sometimes they will come and ask questions they already know the answers to, purely to test you. Always say everything you know. The truth will give you peace and keep you free’”.

“You mean the codger connected to your first envelope?”

“Yes, I often remember him. Do you even know how that job in Cannes was done?”

“Tell me!” Green said, sipping some whiskey.

“We came by car to a large garage and repair service in Nice. We said hello to the manager, who did jobs with me back in the ‘80s. He took us to a small office in the corner and brought me in front of a map on the wall and said, ‘Coveralls and weapons are in your BMW’. I asked for a beemer, a strong, heavy, and reliable car, in case there was a cop push-chase on the road. The escape route was via the Canadian road to Lorraine Boulevard, then to Ferrage Boulevard, and then to Nice to the garage. On the way, by woods at the detour to D-135, a tow truck was waiting for us at which we would board on the trailer, then a nice and safe ride on the truck all the way to the garage. He devised it all too well, a bastard so that he wouldn’t lose his beemer,” Stony had a sweet laugh, shaking his head.

“How not to lose it? I don’t get it.”

“When I escaped from the court on the motorcycle, I didn’t return it to him, so now he vowed I wouldn’t fuck him up twice.”

Green laughed heartily, catching his breath.

“Everything was prearranged. A beautiful lady in an elegant dress walked to the bar of the Carlton Hotel, having previously completed a reconnaissance mission inside the jewelry store. The beauty sat down at the bar, ordered a martini, and asked for a hotel phone, calling my friend’s number in the garage office asking ‘Is my car ready?’ That was the sign for us. I said goodbye to the manager and within half an hour I was with three of my guys armed to the teeth on our way to do the hotel jewelry store. We ripped shelves off £ 39 million worth jewelry. As you can see, the cops grabbed us. By or our dicks, though,” Stony said proudly, swigging the last drop of whiskey from the glass.

“You did it in your own arrangement?”

“Nope. For the boss lady.”

“For a boss lady?!” Green was surprised, not believing his ears. “For a Stony to have a boss? As far as I know, you only did assignments for us, even I was not your boss, but your mentor.”

“It’s not just a boss, bro, but the ex-wife too, that beauty who gave us the sign on the phone.”

“You put pleasure and business together, didn’t you? Two birds with one stone.”

“No, what’s love got to do with it,” Stony sneered, pouring whiskey into the glasses. “She just used me to prepare the robbery. She disappeared shortly afterward. She whizzed me, a fool for love. She didn’t swindle me for the money though, she sent the agreed amount by a courier but then she disappeared… Fuck it, what can I do.”

“And where is she now?”

“She’s back, she’s here in Italy again. In Venice. She holds a small jewelry store, making her ends meet. After the London fiasco, she contacted me, she cried, and a fool as I am, I helped her again.”

“What fiasco?“

“The robbery of Millennium Dome. A series of priceless diamonds, an attack in broad daylight by smashing a glass vault and then a quick escape on a speedboat across the Thames. It sounds like an action movie script. She had a fucking good plan in her hands, a blueprint for the world’s biggest robbery. With her crew, she planned everything so nicely and carefully, and she was so close to success, but…” Stony shook his head, “… As the luck factor played with me and those kids in the woods, so did it pour shit on her. An informant happened to them halfway through the planning, and a covert police operation with mass arrests, in the end. She was just the organizer, waiting for them on the other side of the River Thames. She managed to get away from England, but barely, edgewise. She’s still barely standing on her feet, but that’s good for you… she’s not so cocky as the king of spades anymore,” he said and took a sip.

“Why is it good for me?”

“Because she is chronically in want of money and stuff, and she needs suppliers, while she is an expert on white stones, she has the knowledge, just what you need,” Stony winked at him.

“Interesting. Are you still in a relationship?”

“No way, never again. She actually can’t be in a relationship with anyone, and I got hitched in the meantime. She’s a great person… but she’s also a snake.”

“Aren’t all women like that?” Green chuckled. “So it’s not a problem if I make a combination with her?”

“Whatever, go ahead. As for business, you can trust her. I’ll connect you with her.”

“Perfect. Please arrange for us to meet in Venice, in that red restaurant near St. Mark’s square where you and I sat once. Do you have any pictures of her, or describe her to me, so I know who I am to meet.”

Stony guffawed. “Come on, Green, no need to describe her. You’ll see when she appears. It’s the most gorgeous cunt Italy’s ever seen, even today in her late thirties. She’ll make you breathless, you’ll see.”

“Okay, if you say so,” he laughed. “By the way, I have one last question.”

“Just say it, pal.”

“Do you have anyone of confidence, an expert for strongboxes? I plan a job shortly.”

“I have the right guy for that kind of work,” Stony replied. “There’s no one better.”

Reprocessing stolen diamonds

January 2003 – Dora meeting Green

In a private booth of a modern and tastefully decorated restaurant, not far from the main square jammed by tourists, Green was waiting for Stony’s ex-wife. He didn’t know who he was expecting, he was just guided by the words Stony said to him in laughter. He was observing intensely the entrance and saw her enter, a beautiful woman of prime-age, a curvaceous and tall blonde, tucked into a tight business suit. She was glowing and burning with beauty and sex appeal with her golden hair and sensual lips, discreetly displayed lush breasts and wide hips, arousing male lust with her every move. 

“I suppose you’re Green,” she said with a velvety, soft-spoken voice.

He rose slowly prevailing tingling in his spine, remaining speechless for a moment in presence of such impeccable beauty. The discreet makeup she wore only accentuated her perfect facial features where strong cheekbones and a Greek nose excelled just as much as an irresistible smile and big blue eyes.

“It’s a good guess.”

“I’m Dora, pleased to meet you,” she said, extending her hand.

“Believe me, the pleasure’s all mine,” he took her hand and kissed it slightly.

“A true gentleman,” she smiled even wider and sat down at the table.

“I suppose Stony told you about me. Before we get to the point, I’d like you to know that you can completely trust me,” Green said.

“You don’t have to tell me anything. I’ve never heard Stony talk about anyone with such awe, and that one respects no one otherwise. So, I wish you could trust me too, even though we’ve just met.”

“Fair enough,” Green nodded and ordered a bottle of fine red wine. The same waiter brought them menus and they chose beef in red wine sauce with croquettes.

Green took a sip of his wine, enjoying the company and the privacy.

“Stony told me you’re in the know about the business with ice. I own a certain quantity right now, but I’m curious how it works with diamonds. I have noticed throughout Europe that jewelry stores are often poorly guarded, which astonished me very much given the value of the goods they keep.”

“Well, there’s a good point to it. You must think it’s difficult to fence your stuff after a completed job, which is quite so, but you can find your ways around.”

“Explain it to me, please,” he said, smiling.

“Selling stolen precious gems is just as difficult as seizing them, as most have a serial number on them. The Gemological Institute of America has a database of diamonds lost or stolen and checks all gems sent to them. Amateur thieves are constantly falling on the GIA database. But professionals know better and they redo lapidary on gems through recutting and/or repolishing them so that the number is removed. Then gems can be revalidated by the GIA and become marketable again. Diamonds are hard to find even if a thief is arrested. By the time they are captured, if the switching action is done during the robbery itself, they will be recut and repolished, their shape and size will change without losing the diamond’s value and no one will be able to trace them back to the origin of the stolen gems. The pieces of jewelry are broken in such a way that after lapidary treatment, gems can be sold back to the diamond market, so the thief can even return to the same jewelry store bringing them, and no one can prove that they were stolen,” Dora said and tasted wine for the first time.

Green nodded enthusiastically. “One can see that you’re an expert. Though, as we’re waiting for the waiter to bring the meal, I’d like you to have a look at the stuff I have.” He took a small leather pouch from the inside pocket of his jacket and handed it to her across the table.

Dora put the pouch discreetly in her lap and took one out and looked at it in the daylight for a moment.

“They’re real and of outstanding quality, no doubt,” she said enthusiastically. “The most obvious identifications are the weight and physical dimensions of the gems,” she said, taking another diamond. “All this can be changed by a lapidary. They may have laser inscriptions on the outer side of the diamond, but it could also be repolished. As for most gems, when we change weights and dimensions, we don’t even have to expose them in the known western markets, but they could go for sale to China, Hong Kong, India, Russia or the Middle East, where there is a strong demand and a lot of money, while people buying them probably won’t try to verify them as it’s not in their interest. In our case, we don’t sell gems certified by independent laboratories such as GIA. We will sell them as in-house certified.”

Green was silent, grinning, not taking his eyes off her face and curves.

“What are you smiling at?” she asked, noticing his blissful gaze.

“You impressed me. I’ve not met a smarter, prettier, and sexier woman in my life,” he said, causing a light blush on her face. “But there’s something else I’d like to know, something I’d ask you to tell me.”

“Just say it. What do you want to know?”

“What happened with the Millennium Dome job? Stony said the plan was perfect. What went wrong?”

Dora sighed heavily as her smile disappeared from her face. His question touched a yet sore spot.

“The Millennium Dome, known from the James Bond movie. In addition to eleven rare blue diamonds on display at the Millennium Celebration 2000, the main exemplar was a 203-carat diamond Millennium Star, discovered in Congo, without a single flaw, bearing the epithet of the world’s most beautiful diamond, all of them owned by Tevirs since 1890. The total value of the whole collection deal was over £ 210 million. I had seven of us on the crew, all foreigners, and a buyer ready to take the booty the same night after the robbery, for 10% of the value, that is, 21 million on seven of us, or clean three million per person.”

“Nice.”

“And more than nice,” Dora said, nodding. “When I first reported the plan to them, the crew kept silent, they couldn’t believe anything like that was imaginable at all. One even joked saying it was a pie in the sky, a fucking fairy tale,” she said, smiling pensively. “Of course, the next day we went to the Dome to see for ourselves. When they realized how easily feasible the job was, they were amazed.”

“So you won them over right away.”

“Of course. They declared the job a piece of cake at once, the very same guys who called it a fairy tale the day before. They invigorated as soon as they saw the poor security measures. The action was scheduled for 9.30 a.m., half an hour before the official opening, just in time for Terrence to bring a primitive but effective tool to enter the Dome during his morning break,” she said and began laughing.

“What’s funny? And what was the primitive tool?” Green laughed, though he didn’t know why.

“JCB Front Fork Excavator.”

“Excavator?!” Green was surprised, as he did not know the details of the robbery.

“You show the same reaction as my crew did,” she said with a laugh. “I told them that when they enter the vault, they would face a three-quarter-inch-thick protective glass. It was planned to use an industrial nail gun to weaken the glass and then break the cabinets with sledgehammers. A buddy of Terence’s would wait for them with a speedboat on the dock right next to the Millennium Dome, while a van would wait for them on the other side of the river. At a local pub, I was supposed to pick the booty up and hand it to the customers. Fast, simple, and effective plan. We thought of everything. I led a construction worker to buy me an industrial nail gun in the name of his company because it is not a commodity that is purchased every day. If I had bought it in my name, they would have found me quickly.”

“I can only guess that you didn’t have any trouble leading him on,” Green said teasingly.

“He has indeed opposed a bit because the nail gun cost 762 pounds, but a nice pleading was enough to pass the obstacle, while he was to get a piece of the loot cake anyway. And without the gun, it wasn’t even worth starting the action. As the seller introduced it, the gun was designed to penetrate steel and concrete up to 25 millimeters thick or one-inch of solid steel. We also took a box of three-inch nails with the gun. Better to have a surplus than missing in need,” Dora said, turning silent as soon as she saw the waiter carrying their meal.

He served them quickly and discreetly and disappeared where he came from.

Green gripped eating utensils, stunned by the smell of meat.

“So, this is how a plan sounds of how to get 200 million pounds loot: first thrust the dome with an excavator, then weaken the protective glass with a nail gun, smash the glass with hammers, filch the diamonds and escape by a speedboat across the Thames,” Green said, pausing for a moment. “You’re right, a simple plan, sure it is.”

“Yes, though it didn’t work out as planned,” Dora sighed sadly. “On November 7, 2000, the excavator was brought to the Dome as agreed. The excavator did not raise suspicion at all as construction works were ongoing nearby. The crew was very well prepared, all dressed in construction coveralls with body armor underneath and ammonia at the waste, which was to destroy DNA traces behind them. Terrence was the leader. He made sure that they all had hammers, smoke grenades, and of course a nail gun. They only had five minutes to get the robbery done. At 9.30 am, they put gas masks on their faces and dredged their way through into the dome. The JCB excavator is so powerful that it broke through the nearest entrance to the financial zone, where the Millennium Diamonds exhibit was located. As one threw smoke grenades across the floor to spread panic and keep visitors and staff as far away from the target space as possible, the other two got down to the toll of breaking the glass. The gun worked successfully, penetrating the glass. On the crack, they were beating with hammers in synchrony and they would have successfully broken the glass, but…” Dora paused and sighed long and deep, “…As soon as they entered, their fate was sealed. Special police set out to arrests. There were more than a hundred police officers, most of them armed to the teeth. Among those visitors kept away from diamonds were sixty police officers dressed in civilian clothes. To the north and south of the Thames River, there were also sixty armed Flying Squad officers and twenty armed police officers on the river itself. In addition to them, there were also surveillance officers in the area next to the vault, disguised as Millennium Dome employees”. Dora dropped her fork and stared at a spot on the table.

Green didn’t push her, he knew how hard it was for her.

“While my guys struggled to get hold of diamonds, they were not at all aware of the fact that they were surrounded, much less aware that the real diamonds, the Millennium Star and Millennium Blue diamonds were replaced by phonies”. Dora gulped from her glass. “We thought it would have taken us five minutes for the whole job. The guys would have been done much earlier and outside. Within the next twenty minutes, they would be safe, having got rid of the booty and the evidence that could link them to the robbery. One of the guys told officers as they arrested him that he was ‘12 inches away from retirement’. Instead of enjoying life and the benefits of work, they’re now rotting in prison, grieving on having been so close to success in doing the biggest heist of the century. Apart from them in the Dome, the speedboat driver and the van driver on the other side also fell. I was waiting at the pub balcony across the river, keeping an eye on the Millennium Dome. When more than five minutes had passed and I couldn’t see the crew board onto the speedboat, I knew something went wrong. According to the plan, I got up at once and went out and threw all my phones into the river. Police sirens were howling nearby, I knew they were getting the van driver too. I got lost in the mass of people at the subway entrance and got off at the main train station and caught the first train to Paris. I was in Italy the next day, and only when I was away, the effects of shock and fear overwhelmed me. I was long shivering from my own shadow, constantly dreading that Interpol would come for me, but fortunately, the guys could not have betrayed me because none of them knew me for a long time or knew anything about me. I knew how to choose the right guys. We did but one wrong estimate in planning.”

“Which one?” Green asked softly. “Did you find out who betrayed you?”

“Not right then. After a while, I found out what happened. I remember well one strange call from Cochran’s number. I didn’t even manage to say hello when a woman’s outburst of curses sank me. She found my messages on his phone, where I invited him to prep meetings, and in a fit of jealousy thought that the two of us were having an affair. She called me a slut, screamed to leave her man alone, and then she changed the song and sent us both to bloody hell. Cochran showed up for a meeting soon after that, all gaunt from quarreling. Usually, I don’t like such life dramas because they reflect badly on the work and I wanted to replace Cochran, but we were in shortage of time. I needed Cochran’s boat for the escape across the Thames.”

“A mistake. You should have replaced him despite the risk of losing a job.”

“I know that now, too. Cochran managed to calm her down somehow, but his girlfriend was convinced he would dump her after the job. I didn’t know that the fool told her about the job and promised her a nice life after the job done. In fear and anger, she called Scotland Yard and it didn’t take too much. They got organized at record speed. First, they started following Cochran and then everyone else. They must have followed me too, but they didn’t have too much time to gather evidence on me, they focused on the robbery itself, but I still don’t have a peaceful sleep. That’s why I believe they let the robbery start so that they could gather enough evidence.”

“A fascinating story,” Green said in amazement, leaving the eating utensils on the plate.

“You don’t seem a curious man to me,” Dora said, taking out a pack of cigarettes and a lighter, which he gently took from her hand gentleman-like and lit for her. She rewarded him with a nice smile and a seductive look. “What makes you so interested in my story?”

“I like to know who my partners are, and I’d love us to work together if you agree.”

“Stony mentioned that there was some work to do,” Dora nodded, drawing a long smoke of the cigarette she was holding between her fingernails.

“Do you have any contact at the Diamond Center in Antwerp?” he asked as he poured wine to them.

“Of course I do.”

“Are you willing to go to Antwerp next week? If you can, of course.”

“Of course, why not?” Dora said, laughing softly. She liked him for not wandering around and wasting no time. She felt quivering in her belly from uncertainty and curiosity to learn the details of the prospective job, although she struggled to keep her calmness on the outside.


Chapter 5

Initiation

(Antwerp Diamond Center 2003, 400 Mil$)

Partners in Antwerp

January 2003

Exactly a week after having a nice dinner getting to know each other, Green and Dora were on their way to Antwerp. Using one of his fake passports, Green bought a used Mercedes and headed north. He didn’t have a hard time at all, enjoying Dora’s nice company. She had all the time in the world to introduce him to the world of diamonds in more detail.

“Antwerp has been a diamond center for the last 600 years, and since the beginning of the sixteenth century, it has been the world’s diamond capital. Deals are being arranged while uncut diamonds come from all corners of the globe and are stored in vaults. In the last year alone, according to official reports, they have processed 80% of the world’s rough diamond production. Of course, this does not count the hidden world of bargaining under the table and many transactions outside bookkeeping records, following the ancient family and religious traditions of the dominant dealers in the district,” Dora said, smiling triumphantly. She paused to light a cigarette and offer one to Green. “The man we are going to meet is called Nardo. He is known in his hometown of Turin as a family man who lives in a beautiful suburb with his wife and children. He has a small office in Antwerp Diamond Center, which he leased a few years ago, and generally spends one day a month there on average, traveling to Belgium from Italy. There on the spot, he would collect information about possible targets that his gang would later rob”. Dora opened the window slightly, looking for some fresh air.

“How did you two meet?” Green asked, shaking the cigarette ashes in the ashtray.

“Like with everyone else, he would bring me booty for resale. In Italy, he always played a cheerful and good-natured jeweler, he was likable to people and was often invited to offices, workshops, and even to safety vaults to inspect the goods. But he couldn’t lead me by the nose, Stonu told me about his criminal past full of petty thefts and burglaries. He is one of those criminals with legitimate businesses who forgather for specific crimes. He would usually buy a few gems, then a month later he would steal the entire stock in the middle of the night, while Antwerp serves him well as the perfect place to sell hot stuff. For example, a diamond necklace stolen in Italy could be dismantled and individual jewels sold for cash in Antwerp and vice versa. But he couldn’t touch me because he knew I was working with Stony.”

“What our people would say, a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” Green said with a smile on his lips.

“That’s right.” Dora laughed heartily. “What’s between you and my ex? He’s never mentioned you, and I can see he’s even afraid of you in some way. Aren’t you some dangerous dude?” she said, winking.

“Nah. You don’t have to be scared of me. Stony and I worked together a long time ago, he actually did some work for me.”

“Ah, yes?” she said in surprise. “And who would you have to be that he should do jobs for you?”

Green looked at her. “I don’t deem it necessary to explain who I was during the past system.”

Dora looked at him bewildered for a few moments before she understood. Her eyes instinctively widened in mild fear.

“As I told you, you don’t have to be scared of me,” he said, tossing a cigarette from his window and squeezing the gas pedal harder.

After some solid ten hours of almost continuous driving across western Europe, in the late afternoon, a silver Mercedes stopped by a small cafe in Antwerp’s main square. Green honked twice and saw Jolly getting up from a table, leaving his bills under the coffee cup. He ran those few steps to the car and sat in the back seat, greeting first the woman of stunning beauty in the front seat.

“Jolly, nice to meet you,” he said, taking Dora’s hand, kissing it.

“Dora, nice to meet you,” she said and looked at Green. “Another gentleman.”

“Always, that’s manners,” Jolly laughed. “How’s it going, Green? The boss told me that we would work together on some job, but…”

“But what?” Green interrupted, braking slightly at the red traffic light, at the detour before turning onto the superhighway.

“I mean, how long has it been, more than a week without us talking any business?”

“Are you getting paid?” Green pressed the gas pedal to the green light, turning right toward the superhighway exit.

“Yes, you gave me down payment of ten thousand Euro.”

“So, there’s nothing to worry about, right? You are getting paid, so, relax.”

“Very well,” Jolly said with a shrug and settled himself in the back seat more comfortably.

“We’ll talk about work tomorrow. Your first task was to find a good locksmith, you’ve already done it. One more thing,” Green said, looking over his shoulder briefly. “Stony’s no longer your boss. From now on, you work for me. And there’s nothing to worry about,” he said, looking through the rearview mirrors. “You’ll make a lot more money with me.”

Jolly smiled, thinking this was indeed true because this stranger had given him an advance payment that exceeded any total earnings from any job with Stony.

Making sure that no one was following them, Green pushed the gas pedal to the bottom and speeded up the powerful engine down the superhighway.

Preps for Diamond Center job

The very active Hoveniersstraat was the epicenter of the global diamond trade. Almost every day, armored vehicles would stop in front of a building, to which massive couriers armed with guns would step, pushing black suitcases into the safest diamond center.

Across the street, in a small cramped cafe with half a dozen small tables, Green was looking out the window at the daily routine of armed diamond delivery men. He sipped his second espresso slowly, watching the armored vehicle move away from the main entrance. Then he lost interest in the building and stared at his interlocutor, whom they had been talking about in recent days.

“How often do you visit the Diamond Center?” Green asked the lively Nardo.

“When I’m in town, which is about twice a month, it all depends. I have a small apartment near the Diamond District so sometimes I can stay up to a few days.”

“And how’s the business going?”

“Business is going very well, even great!” Nardo exclaimed.

“I’m glad to hear that,” Green said, looking back at the entrance. Africans in vividly colored suits caught his attention. He glanced at his watch and noticed that it was nine o’clock in the morning. Soon Indian traders also appeared, wearing magnifiers around their necks, then he noticed bald Russians as well as Armenians with reading glasses raised to the forehead. Hasidic men with wide-brimmed hats walked hurriedly with their purses clamped tightly around their waists. So many different nations in a minute reminded him of the UN, so he coughed and laughed.

“Well, as I see your business’s doing great, as you say, then you probably won’t be interested in the business proposal I’ve prepared for you,” he said and took the last sip of espresso.

Nardo stared at him inquisitively. “Let’s not jump to conclusions, I’m always interested in new business proposals. What did you have in mind?”

“Well, we could qualify that job as an inside job.”

“An inside job? I don’t understand,” Nardo said, shaking his head.

“You understand well what I mean, but I’ll be more specific. I mean sweeping the safeboxes from the inside of this vault,” Green said in a quieter voice.

Nardo looked at him in disbelief. “An inside job?”

“That’s right, an inside job is done with a help of a person who works there, that is, who may have a small office in the Diamond Center,” Green said without taking his eyes off him.

Nardo was staring blankly in the silence, and Green noticed that he was fighting the urge to burst out laughing, to the point where he could no longer restrain himself. Nardo’s ostentatious laughter got on his nerves, but he knew he had to be patient.

“An inside job? Are you crazy?” Nardo asked as he calmed down a bit from the laugh. “The Diamond Center building is located in the heart of the historic Antwerp’s Diamond District, which is carefully guarded, with police officers in pedestrian zones and at entrances, and diamonds are shipped by armed couriers, as you saw just minutes before! Then surveillance cameras, entry codes, 24-hour security guards, even cameras in safes. If you could by some miracle successfully carry out robbery without signs of burglary or activation of the alarm, police would know that the robbers had to have internal assistance, and then they would start interrogating the staff and the owners of the safes!” Nardo exclaimed quietly.

“Nardo, listen to me. You won’t be involved in any way, you will have an alibi. You don’t have to do anything during the robbery,” Green replied composedly, ignoring his mockery.

“Have you heard me say what I’ve just said?” Nardo asked in disbelief, confused by Green’s lack of reaction to the torrent of his arguments.

“I heard you perfectly clear,” Green said, not losing his composure.

“Okay, so, as for you, what should I do?”

Green noticed that he’s managed to catch his interest. “You just assist me in prepping to get inside. With my crew, you will send your man of confidence to bring you as much loot from the safes as he can grab for you.”

Nardo was no longer laughing.

“How come!” Nardo asked, taken aback, with his eyes goggled.

Green pulled a felt-tip pen out of his pocket. “Look at this felt-tip. At first glance, it looks like a common felt-tip highlighter, but on the cover, there is a miniature digital camera that can store a hundred high-resolution images. As you have a safe-deposit box in the vault, with this pen stuck on your shirt pocket, you will be able to take a bunch of photos. You’ll be the first one to begin the swiping action.”

“How?” Nardo asked with his eyes down.

“You’re going to plant in a miniature camera next to the vault door. Don’t worry, it’s simple, I have a man who will teach you how to do that. You will hide it on one fire extinguisher. The camera will capture the combination of the security wheel for the opening of the vault door. We can’t force open them. In addition to having seismic sensors, the doors are designed to withstand twelve-hour continuous drilling. And something else.”

“What?” Nardo sighed.

“The day before the robbery, as the last resort, you will visit your safe and disable the thermal-motion sensor with a hairspray.”

“Hairspray?! Come on, please don’t be ridiculous,” Nardo laughed. “Well, the job you described is impossible.”

“Not true. It’s already been done before. A Serbian criminal authority, Mr. Stan from New York, was the first to launch the technique. The first robbery of this kind was carried out at the Diamond Center in New York many years ago, including access to a safe box located in the vault below the building. The method also included an ID of a tenant who had 24-hour access to the building, essentially something like what we plan to do here,” Green concluded, seeing that Nardo was no longer as opposing as he was at first. “So can you take photos with this hidden camera for an initial payment of € 20,000? Then, one week before the robbery, for an additional € 20,000, could you put another magnetic camera on the fire extinguisher next to the vault door security wheel? The camera emits a video signal and it will be very easy to capture the guard when he rotates the combination on the vault door. Once we have all the facts at hand, then we’ll sit down and honestly discuss whether the vault at the Antwerp Diamond Center can or cannot be looted.”

Although Nardo was sure that the answer to the question of the possibility of looting the vault was no, the opportunity to earn 40,000 Euros was more than tempting.

“Even though I may help you take these photos, my opinion on the safest place to hold valuables in Antwerp, and in Europe, would still remain unchanged. Nevertheless, I’m willing to take pictures of the place and show you just how scary and pointless the thought of this robbery is,” Nardo said.

Green nodded and continued, “The following day, walk into the Diamond District as nonchalantly as any other time, except that you will now have the felt-tip pinned to your shirt just as I explained to you. For starters, photograph the police surveillance checkpoint on Schupstraat, a street that leads to the center of the District, who surveil that area, while they also operate the moving steel cylinders to prevent unauthorized vehicle entry. Take a few shots and move on, slowly walking toward the Diamond Center itself. At the entrance to the building, take shots of the private security personnel, where the operations center is and a large metal door at the entrance, followed by the vault lobby and a three-point lock steel door of the strongroom. There is a combination wheel at the door of the strongroom with numbers from 0 to 99. There are four numbers to enter, which can only be seen through a small objective lens at the top of the wheel… for now, just take photographs from a safe distance.”

“Wait, how did you get all this information, you talk as if you had been there many times?” Nardo asked, all confused.

Green ignored the question, then pulled out a small camera and continued: “When you are alone in the vault, you will plant this finger-sized magnetic video camera on a regular red fire extinguisher that is attached to the wall. The camera will immediately start recording every movement. To avoid suspicion for quickly exiting the vault, you will calmly exercise the routine of opening and closing your safe deposit box before returning to the elevator.”

The next day, after his photographing work was done, Nardo took a walk in the morning winter sun and decisively persevered in his opinion that the vault was an untouchable target, and he repeated it in the same determined tone when he met Green while handing him the pen with the photographs.

“This job is impossible to do. It’s folly.”

“Nothing is impossible, Nardo,” Green grinned with satisfaction. “I’ll call you next week to show you something.” He gave him the money, they shook hands once more and Nardo left the cafe.

Not far from the Diamond Center, Green was sitting in his apartment drinking his morning coffee. On the laptop screen, he watched a live video broadcast from the camera placed in the vault. He glanced at the clock, expecting the guard to arrive at any moment. Punctual like a clock, the guard emerged stepping out of the elevator. Green watched him carefully turn the combinations on the combination wheel. Finishing the rotation of the number combination, the guard took out the key that disappeared instantly inside the keyhole. He turned the doorknob and the vault door swung open. A smile quivered on Green’s lips.

Five days later, Green picked Nardo up in the center of Antwerp, so they drove to the outskirts of the city, once a very active industrial area. He parked next to the entrance of an old warehouse and shut down his car.

“Here we are,” Green said, exiting the Mercedes.

Nardo frowned, trying to figure out what they were doing so far from downtown. Green quickly unlocked the door and entered the half-dark warehouse.

In the middle of the room, Nardo saw something huge enclosed with plastic nylon, and only at a second glance noticed some other people besides the two of them. He shivered a little, but when he saw a woman sitting in the corner, he recognized Dora and forgot at once about his fear.

“Here, to show you that everything can be done with discipline and practice,” Green said, pulling the nylon off a perfect replica of the vault in which Nardo himself holds his valuables.

Out of shock, Nardo forgot to breathe. He got choked up, disbelieving his own eyes. “Where… where did you get this?”

“We all have our ways, Nardo,” Green said seriously. “Let me introduce my crew of experts to you,” he said and tapped Jolly on the shoulder. “This is Jolly, an alarm and safebox specialist. Next to him is our colleague whom we all know only by his specialty. His name is Master of Keys, a locksmithery specialist, one among the best in the world. And finally, our colleague, Dora, whom you already knew from before.”

Jolly took a proud stance while Master of Keys just smiled at the compliment. Everyone said their greetings, but Green wanted to get down to business.

“So the ceiling is equipped with motion, heat, and light detectors. The security camera transmits motion to the guards’ station, while all transmission is recorded on videotape. The safe deposit boxes are made of steel and copper, and to open them requires a key and a combination. Each of these boxes has over 17k possible combinations. Then, we have ten protective systems to disable, those being: six in the door 1. Combination Wheel (0-99), 2. Key lock, 3. Seismic sensor (built-in), 4. Locked steel grille, 5. Magnetic door sensor, 6. External security camera, and four in the vault, 7. Sensor disabling keyboard, 8. Light sensor, 9. Internal Security Camera, 10. Heat/motion sensor.”

Nardo listened very attentively to him, but the mere presence of the vault captivated all his attention. If someone threw him out of the blue sky now, he would be sure he was in the Diamond Center vault. Every detail was reconstructed into subtleties.

“You reconstructed all this from the photos I took?” Nardo whispered in delight and looked at Green, who nodded cold-headedly. “I feel like I’ve stepped into a movie,” Nardo said through gritted teeth. “But, how?” Nardo shook his head. “How do you intend to disable all of these security systems?”

“Jolly, who specializes in alarm systems – can disable any type of alarm. And Master of Keys will help with the vault door,” Green repeated.

“Can you disable this?” Nardo asked, pointing to the ceiling of the replica.

“I can disable it for the most part of it,” Jolly said with a smile. “You’ll still have to do one or two things for me.”

“Jolly will handle the alarms,” Green said, glancing at the calm elderly man on the side. “And the camera did its part and Master of Keys did the nearly impossible by replicating the vault key.” Master of Keys’ eyes met Nardo’s.

As soon as Nardo saw that gleam in his eyes, every doubt in Green’s words and plan began to vanish.

Great heist

Thursday, February 13, 2003 – Two days before the heist

The roaring noise of a low-flying helicopter dominated the skies above Antwerp. Flying above the police escort of an armored truck, the helicopter monitored traffic in front of the oncoming convoy that passed through the gates of the Diamond District and stopped at the entrance to the Diamond Center.

Guards armed to the teeth jumped out of the vehicle and created a protective perimeter around the armored truck. The rest of the police escort continued their way over the lowered metal cylinders, which lifted automatically as they left. The guards wouldn’t allow anyone to enter the perimeter. One of them spoke quickly in a handheld radio and the main door of the armored truck opened. Boxes with precious stones in the guards’ hands quickly disappeared through the inconspicuous entrance of the Diamond Center.

“Here’s our little shipment,” Green said happily, watching the action movie through the large cafe window across the street where he sat with Dora and Nardo. “Ready to be picked up,” Green said, sipping his coffee.

“Whose goods are these?” Dora asked, with her eyes on the truck.

“Tevirs’, their monthly supply of diamonds, worth hundreds of millions.”

“Oh, boy,” Dora whispered, understanding for the first time why they were waiting for this date.

“Yes. All rough, unpolished gems that flew to London first, where they were split and housed in 120 boxes, one for each Tevirs official distributor, most of which are based here in Antwerp. Every month, supplies are moved to Belgium, always by Brinks’ armored trucks,” he said, nodding toward the truck.

Dora looked at him, impressed, before turning to Nardo, handing him a bottle of female hairspray under the table.

“What’s this?” Nardo asked, holding a metal bottle in his hand under the table.

“Hairspray,” Green said. “It will deactivate the thermal-motion sensor in the safe tomorrow.”

Nardo looked at him with raised eyebrows. “Wait, you weren’t kidding when first mentioning hairspray?”

“Nardo, it’s a simple and effective trick. The oil film will temporarily isolate the sensor from fluctuating room temperatures, and the alarm will normally sound only if it senses movement and heat. The only problem is, how long will it hold, but Jolly does not need more than a minute to install the sensor bypass anyway. Maybe he’ll have five minutes, maybe less. The most important thing is that the oil film lasts until we arrive”.

Nardo just nodded and placed a bottle of hairspray imperceptibly in his jacket pocket.

The next morning, Friday, February 14th, just one day before the robbery, Nardo went to the vault and, after a routine check at the entrance, descended to the vault where he was met by a guard. He went into the vault and waited for the guard to leave, leaving the client alone with valuables in his safe box.

At lightning speed, Nardo pulled out a bottle of hairspray and covered the combined thermal-motion sensor with a thin layer of clear, greasy, and misty fluid with a quick and practical circular motion. Finished with splashing, he quickly stuffed the bottle into his pocket and then rolled his jewelry out of the box until the smell of the woman’s hairspray disappeared.

Antwerp was swarming with people that weekend, February 15-16. The attention of the entire city public and visitors was directed to the Diamond Tennis Tournament. In a lodge in the third row above the court, Green, Jolly, and Dora were sitting, closely following the tennis match.

“You’ll have to leave soon,” Green said softly. “Let’s reiterate everything about the plan.”

“Yes,” Jolly replied without taking his eyes off the players on the field.

“First, you force open the lock on the unfinished office building opposite the Diamond Center, you enter through the door and exit at the back of the building into a private garden that rests on the back of the Diamond Center. Use the ladders we hid there yesterday, climbing over them to a small balcony on the second floor. Don’t forget about the infrared thermal detector on the balcony!” Green hissed. “Approach the detector from behind slowly with a polyester shield, placing it directly in front of the detector, preventing it from sensing anything, then you attend to the alarm sensor on the balcony window, disable and you all entering through the window. You go down the stairs to the vault and along the way you cover security cameras with black plastic bags.”

“30-15,” echoed the judge’s voice.

“That’s right,” Jolly confirmed. “Then I take the double-sided plate made of solid aluminum from my bag and tape the adhesive industrial tape to one side of the two plates that regulate the magnetic field on the right side of the vault door and unscrew its outer screws.”

“That’s right. The magnetic field must not be interrupted, otherwise, it would activate the alarm. This is why you unscrew the screws and detach the magnetic plate from the door, which is then free to open.”

“Only one other thing bothers me,” Jolly said reluctantly.

“Which one?” Green looked at him inquisitively.

“I have a bad feeling about these Nardo’s guys. They are constantly nervous during prep meetings, and one of them even has tics of nervousness. They look like real amateurs to me.”

“Don’t worry,” Green tapped his shoulder. “Their problem, they’re not of interest to us. Just remember to focus on the safes up to number 120, just to the left of the entrance. You first go to the left, they will automatically go to the right so you don’t push each other. The loot is better on the left side of the vault because there are the boxes of the oldest and best Tevirs customers.”

A roaring noise echoed Green’s words as people cheered enthusiastically and jumped to the winning point of the tennis game played.

Jolly applauded before stepping up and walking out of the lodge.

Ladies and gentlemen, the winner of tomorrow’s tournament finale will be awarded a racket decorated with a diamond one million dollars worth,” the tournament speaker announced fervently.

“Fuck the racket,” Green said in a thunderous noise so that only Dora could hear him. “From tomorrow, we will have so many diamonds to decorate the whole stadium.”

Dora laughed heartily, infecting Green too. They began to cheer as the audience did, not because of the tennis victory but because of their upcoming victory that they felt at their fingertips.

Hours later, just after midnight, under the starry sky, silence embraced the Diamond District, which gaped empty and deserted. Gray Peugeot, sliding stealthily down the desolate street, passed by the city train station and then turned onto the Pelikaanstraat, bypassing the Diamond District. Nardo was behind the wheel of the rented Peugeot, he parked by the edge of the sidewalk. Without a word, Jolly, Master of Keys, and two Nardo’s guys rushed out of the car carrying their large bags among themselves. Running across the street, they hid under the eaves of an unfinished office building for a few moments until Master of Keys broke the lock open.

Without a word, Jolly leads them through the darkness to the back of the building, toward the private garden exit. Everyone headed to the Diamond Center building that was at their fingertips. Jolly still couldn’t be astonished enough at the Diamond Center’s security omission, as to leave the private garden without any video surveillance. He disappeared for a second and brought in a ladder he had previously hidden well from prying eyes. He climbed the ladder as fast as a cat onto a small balcony on the second floor. Slowly and calmly, holding a home-made polyester shield, he approached the heat detector, placing it directly in front, blocking it from feeling anything, thanks to the low thermal conductivity of polyester. Disabling the heat detector with hairspray, the balcony was safe to move. With a quick hand sign, he urged others to climb as well.

While the others were climbing the ladder, Jolly took care of the alarm sensor on one of the balcony windows, managing to disable it without any problems. One by one, they climbed through the window and went together down the stairs to the darkened lobby of the vault. They immediately covered the security cameras with black plastic bags and then turned on the light. They paused for a moment and stared at the imposing door, listening to the silence, unbroken by any alarm.

Jolly recomposed first and removed a solid aluminum plate from his bag, hooking a heavy industrial self-adhesive double-sided tape to one side. He glued it to two plates that regulated the magnetic field on the right side of the vault door and unscrewed their screws. The magnetic plates were loose, while the sticky aluminum held them together, which allowed Jolly to turn them around and stick them to the lobby wall, away from the heavy door. Although the plates were still side by side and active, they no longer monitored the door, keeping the magnetic field inactivated. Otherwise, when the half-meter-thick metal door opens, the two magnets separate and turn the alarm on directly to the police. But now, as Jolly removed the screws holding the two magnets in place and stuck them together, then removing the magnets - since the magnets were still touching, the alarm never sounded.

In numerous reviews of the records taken by the camera that Nardo had placed on the fire extinguisher, they each time noticed a security guard visiting a utility room just before the vault opened. Master of Keys and Jolly rushed to the utility room as the security guard did and were stunned. In a box, there was the vault key, the biggest security omission that both of them could not imagine even in their wildest dreams. Master of Keys reached out first and took the original key in his hands.

“Uh,” Master of Keys whispered. “I can’t believe what fools they are.”

“We will use the original. The cops and the vault maker don’t need to know about the fact that their precious key can be copied,” Jolly said, and the Master of Keys nodded in agreement. The Master of Keys inserted the key into the keyhole, waiting for Jolly to insert the combination that they were able to pick up from the video record. A moment before the heavy vault door opens, Jolly gestured to others to turn off the lights because of the light detector lurking inside. In the darkness, Master of Keys turned the key and twisted the four-handed handle. The bolts that secured the door pulled inside the door, which opened slowly.

While the guys were working on the vault, Nardo was overcome with impatience sitting in the Peugeot in front of the block, from where he had a perfect view of the front of the Diamond Center. At the same time, Green and Dora were sitting on the balcony of the rented apartment, drinking chilled coffee. The police scanner on the desk was quiet as usual. Dora took out her cigarettes and lit two together and extended one to his impatient fingers. They exchanged glances, both burning with excitement.

Meanwhile, in the lobby of the vault, Master of Keys was deftly breaking the lock on the metal grate. In the dark, he tapped Jolly on the shoulder, who held the grate with the help of two cut-off aluminum cans of paint he found in storage. Also, he wore plastic gloves just like the rest of the crew, thinking of possible prints that police might find. He took a deep breath and entered the dark vault, remembering Green’s words as they practiced on the replica.

“Your body is already projecting heat into the vault as soon as you open the main vault door. The hairspray on the infrared sensor won’t last long, you’ll have to act quickly because every second you spend there increases the ambient temperature. Move fast and try to breathe calmly. The automatic electrical impulse continuously propagates inside the vault and back along these wires. If sensors were to be triggered, the circuit would be interrupted, so, when an impulse is trapped inside the vault, a response is expected. If it doesn’t get a response, the alarm is activated and then you’re screwed up.”

As Green’s words echoed in his head, as during the training exercise on the replica in the warehouse, Jolly stepped exactly 11 steps into the middle of the vault, reached for the ceiling, and pushed the protective panel away. He could feel the main input and output wires of the security system under his fingers. Working overhead, Jolly carefully separated with tools the plastic insulation from the copper wire. Because of the horrific delicacy of the act, sweat splashed down his back, although he had rehearsed this act hundreds of times and was able to separate the insulation from a wire with his eyes closed. He knew very well that accidental cutting of the wire would activate the alarm and ruin the whole action. Having succeeded in removing the plastic insulation, he reached for a new piece of wire and bridged the input and output wires of the sensor. Doing that, he redirected the incoming electrical impulse to the output wire before the signal reached the sensor. Jolly sighed in relief. It no longer mattered what would happen to the impulse because the sensors were disabled.

Although it was safe for the others to come in, everyone was still tense and alert. With a styrofoam box, they blocked the heat and motion detector and covered the light detector with adhesive tape. Having at last disabled all the alarms, they all spontaneously breathed a sigh of relief and went down to work.

The Master of Keys pulled out a hand drill, pinning the drill bit to the lock of the first safe on the left. Pressing the drill firmly, he drilled for about two minutes before the lock broke, thus unlocking the first safe in a row. Encouraged by his example, Nardo’s men went with their drill to the right of the vault.

Jolly and Master of Keys alternately drilled then extracted contents from the safes, stuffing precious loot into their bags. As everyone memorized every detail of the vault while practicing on the replica, they worked in the dark, turning on their flashlights for only a few seconds when placing the drill on the next safe lock. In those brief flashes of light, gold bars would gleam and leather handbags full of rough and polished diamonds would be a sight for sore eye. The treasure glowed at the flashes of the battery, while their owners across Germany, Spain, Italy, England, and the rest of the world slept peacefully.

All that time, everyone struggled with the urge to examine their prey, but there were a lot more strongboxes than the time. During one of the flashes, Jolly looked at his watch and saw it was already 5.30 in the morning. Despite the fatigue, with a high dose of adrenaline pumping through their veins, they could have worked without problems for another five hours, but they had to stop.

“Done! What we’ve taken, we’ve taken. If we go on like this, we’ll get out into the street in plain daylight. Finish what you’re doing and it’s time to go back,” Jolly said, packing the tools.

Nardo’s men also packed their tools and handled their prey bags. Finally, Master of Keys pointed the flashlight toward the vault center, and in the dark, they set their eyes on the work results for the first time. Scattered diamonds, gems, pieces of jewelry were all over the floor, which their owners with quite a reason left to this establishment for safekeeping, considering it the safest place for their wealth. As they were emptying strongboxes in the dark, much of their contents fell out of the bags. It took them almost an hour to pack all the loot and carry the heavy bags up the stairs to the second floor. Jolly stayed the last to make sure they had left no trace by accident and could not resist casting the last glance on the remaining loot scattered on the floor, which they could not bring with them. As reluctant as he was to part from valuables, there was simply much more loot than they could’ve ever imagined.

One of Nardo’s men known to them only by his nickname, Speedy, conveyed the message to Nardo that they were leaving. They climbed through the window and passed by the sensor on the balcony, then they first lowered the bags with the loot over the ladder, before leaving the Diamond Center completely. In the lobby of the half-finished building, they were waiting for Nardo’s sign.

“Is it clean?” Speedy asked, holding his cell phone.

“Wait. There’s a bus coming,” in the perfect silence, Nardo’s voice came from the phone. Then came the bus that stopped a few yards away, disembarking several people before moving further on.

“Now!” Nardo hissed, and the guys stormed out into the street, lit by the dawn light.

“After you… since we are the first to leave, we will put our bags on top,” Jolly told Nardo’s guys. They tossed their bags into the trunk before packing themselves hastily into the car. Nardo geared up and hurried away from the Diamond District.

Jolly felt the adrenaline rush leaving him, which he also saw on the others’ faces. After a five-minute drive, Nardo stopped at a nearby bus stop where Jolly and Master of Keys came out and took their bags from the trunk. They nodded briefly before Nardo continued on his way under the now yet rising sun.

“Come on,” Jolly said as he walked toward the building where Green rented an apartment.

He knocked three times before Green opened the door, moving aside for them to enter. Dora hugged them with joy, then did Green so too. Both Master of Keys and Jolly collapsed into chairs, out of fatigue they had not felt until then. Dora had already made them a fresh coffee, while Green could hardly wait to see the contents of the bags.

Jolly bent down and picked up one of the leather purses full of diamonds.

“Well, I kind of think it’s time to celebrate,” Jolly said with a huge grin, provoking the laughter of everyone around.


Chapter 6

Memories Part III

(2004 Louvre Heist $14M, 2005 Amsterdam Heist $118M, Preps for Dubai heist)

Childhood friends’ reunion

April 2004

“What did you do to the poor inspector, man?” Victor asked, looking at Jolly returning from the toilet. “There he is, running away like the wind”

“Who the fuck cares,” Jolly waved his hand off while sitting down at the table. “Let’s finish the drink, then I’m taking you to a party.”

“What party?” Victor frowned.

“Well, I got some baptism ceremony, my relatives invited me. Let’s brighten their day, and there will be plenty of nice chicks who’ll sure get bored at the party.”

Victor just shrugged and in one sip he finished his drink in front of him, and so did his friend.

Arriving at a fancy suburb, Victor gaped at the lavish mansion.

“What are you gaping like a fish at?” Jolly joked.

“Why, what! Fuck, this is some sight for sore eyes!” Victor exclaimed.

“They say he honestly gained wealth… in the war and after the war… yet people call me a thief… my, oh my, the cousin of mine did marry into a good home,” Jolly laughed softly and knocked on the door where the host appeared soon in a happy mood. Jolly hugged him warmly, pushing a rather thick envelope into the host’s hands, introducing Victor as well.

The host took them into the house and among strangers unknown to him, Viktor headed to the only place he always knew and liked, a nice sumptuous bar full of drinks, both local and foreign. His eyes flew at all these young people, noticing several beautiful girls in fancy fashion combinations.

He tried to find Jolly and saw him by a youngish, pimpled guy with glasses on his nose, who was trying his best with his DJ skills to keep guests in a good mood. Jolly acted as if the DJ did not exist and took a CD out of his pocket and stuffed it into the mixer, interrupting the DJ’s playlist. The recent sounds of turbo-folk dance were replaced by sounds of domestic hip-hop, with Jolly dancing along in rhythm. Victor sensed the moment’s charm and burst into laughter.

“Who changed the music?!” a penetrating female voice momentarily overpowered Jolly’s music.

The pimply DJ just pointed his finger at Jolly, who kept dancing, as if all that had nothing to do with him.

“Sir, you can’t just change the music! The landlady authorized us to play the music and run the bar on her baptism party,” the hostess continued furiously.

She didn’t get to finish the sentence, when Jolly at once hopped, quickly grabbed the hostess above her knees, lifting her to his right shoulder, while keeping dancing without losing pace.

“What are you doing?! Are you crazy?! LET me down!” the hostess screamed out loud, making the situation even more absurd in Victor’s eyes.

Not taking his eyes off Jolly’s dance floor act, Victor merely pushed his glass toward the barman to refill it with fresh ice and whiskey.

“Viktor and Jolly, a hell of a duo ever since,” a husky, strong, and dark, but the rather unknown female voice behind his back startled him, so he turned around and saw an attractive girl with the interesting and impressive face, smiling at him.

“Sorry, good-looking, but I’m not so sure we know each other,” Viktor said teasingly.

“I’m Jacqueline, Victor,” she said, still smiling.

Victor stared at her, confused for a moment, and finally, he remembered.

“Wait a bit! Little Jacquie the Meat-Roll?!” Victor exclaimed, amazed by the beauty of the girl fixed in his childhood memory as a bit paunchy and rather masculine little Amazon girl.

He couldn’t forget the origin of her nickname because she had got it once in his house at lunch with her and his folks, when she, gazing longingly at the stove, uttered the famous and legendary line: ‘What d’you think if a little meat-roll popped out of the braiser now, right into my mouth?’ And even now the memory of the event made him chuckle. Jacqueline had a sweet laugh too when she heard her childhood nickname.

“Meat-roll is no longer my favorite dish… as you can see.”

“I can see, my dear, I see. I’m just a little confused, and amazed.”

“It’s more than obvious,” she said.

“What’s the secret of this transformation… look at your beauty now?”

“No secret,” she had a sweet laugh. “I just stopped worrying about putting on weight… my whole life had been spent in focusing on weight. Over time, I realized that certain foods I was devouring with were actually my main enemy… and I reduced my portions a little. Don’t get me wrong, I still eat everything, but not too much as before. I also reduced the companionship with the people that caused me to eat that much,” she finished in a pensive tone, staring at Jolly and the hostess, whose anger passed quickly enough, and now she laughed, accepting hot dance in the skillful Jolly’s hands.

“So, how’s it going? What do you do?” he asked.

“I’ve recently graduated from the Academy of Arts. I work as a designer and makeup artist at the National Theater.”

“Wow, nice. Well, if I remember correctly, you’ve always drawn beautifully. And your job now is to make actresses up before the show?”

“Both actresses and actors. If necessary, I change their personal description, depending on the play, and I sew their costumes.”

“Very interesting. Let’s move to that couch, I’m so interested to hear more about that,” Victor said with a smile, heading for the couch without waiting for her consent.

She looked at him in astonishment for a moment before she followed him.

* * *

A few days after the cheerful baptism party, the two friends were seated again in the garden of Victor’s Café. With coffee and whiskey, Jolly reminded him of the conversation from the other day.

“Brother, think again about the offer. I would sincerely like us to be partners,” he was about to continue talking when a familiar hoarse voice came from behind him.

“Son! Is that you?”

Jolly turned slowly, looking at the uncared for and shabby-bearded old man.

“Oldster,” Jolly replied, nodding, not getting up from his chair or saying greetings.

“When did you arrive? Are you coming to visit us?“ the old man asked, glancing at the empty chair at their table, expecting an invitation to join them, which never followed.

“You?” Jolly asked cynically. “Did you get hitched already, oldster, while the mother didn’t even chill properly underground?” he asked scornfully, looking over his shoulder.

“No, what’s wrong with you! How could I…,” the old man began explaining, looking at his son’s cold eyes, which told him he was unwanted.

“Well, I won’t bother you, kids. I’ll see you around,” the old man said with sadness in his voice as he waddled down the street.

“So why don’t you go visit him? He sounded sad,” Victor asked, looking at the old man at distance.

“I’m afraid I could hurt the old bastard,” Jolly said, taking a quick sip of whiskey. “He’s driven the mother to an early grave, and after the burial, he almost started singing. What only matters to the old guzzle-guts are that he has enough brandy to get bashed. There is no place for sadness in his heart. The last time, like a fool, I got to believe he called me to come because he really wanted to see me. I went to see him and have a drink with him, and he asked for my money right away. He said he needed it to pay his rent until he got on his feet,” he said, waving his hand off, swigging abruptly his last sip of whiskey. “But let’s go back to that what matters. If you decide to come, my brother, just send me a message and I’ll send you a plane ticket to Paris where I’ll meet you.”

Call of adventure

September 2004

Caught up in the groove, struggling with his routine obligations, figuring out ways to keep his head above water and get it through the month, at no point could Victor forget about the friend’s offer that became more and more enticing every day. The ruthless machine called life ground him mercilessly, not letting him even gasp for air.

The cafe business was doing worse, earning him a meager income, compounding the headache that rarely left him. One of the ideas that came to his mind was not the most ideal one, or legal though. He knew he still had some hot luxury stuff on stock and decided to activate and sell them.

Establishing old contacts, orders began to arrive soon afterward, so one rainy and sultry September morning, he ended up on a superhighway toward the capitol transporting some ceremonial, luxurious, and trademarked Italian suits of dubious origin in the trunk of his car. Driving fast on slippery asphalt, he lost control of the steering wheel, turned twice around his axis, and rammed into an embankment, before ending up in a ditch by the side of the road. Out of shock, he was unable to orient himself in the first few moments. He felt the warmth and humidity on his forehead and instinctively touched his forehead. Blood. It didn’t impress him that much as the crushed car.

He somehow managed to open the door and get out on the damp grass. He walked a few steps away from the car and saw what trouble he was in. The car was completely smashed from the front as well as struck from the sides. At second thought, he began to examine himself, and except for a small cut on his forehead, it was a miracle that he came out of this accident with his entire body barely bruised. Hearing sirens at distance, the thought of goods in the trunk scared him off more than the crash itself.

Police and ambulance routinely completed their tasks and he had to go to the police station with the boys in blue where he received a traffic offense ticket. While he was sitting in an uncomfortable chair in the hallway, officers brought in other drivers, who afterward ended up as victims of slippery asphalt. All the time he had been praying to the heavens that no one remembers to look into the trunk of his former car, now the wreck lying on the tow truck trailer.

Of the newcomers to the station, he was most impressed by a young fellow stained with blood. He sat next to Victor, crying all the time as he tried unsuccessfully to make a cell phone connection. Who knows whom he lost, Victor thought. Observing the young man’s despair, Victor felt his own deepen as well as if something had been dragging him down into the depths from which he felt he would never be able to emerge again.

‘What did I need this for? Victor thought, running his hands through his hair. ‘Where am I rushing like a fool, like I’m gonna be late somewhere? So what does it matter even if I am? I don’t even have a car anymore, who’ll fix it now. And the trunk!’ tingles spread throughout his whole body out of fear. ‘If they open the fucking trunk, I’m screwed up. Jail time is a sure thing now.’

A uniformed officer interrupted his thoughts as he approached them to complete the paperwork.

In the end, he was barely able to cover the cost of the traffic accident sentence and his damaged car transport with a tow truck, but on the other hand, he was relieved that none of the police officers had thought of inspecting the hulk of his vehicle.

Happiness and tranquility did not last long, for the next day new fines were waiting for him in the cafe, carefully packed in blue envelopes. Week after week, the penalties came regularly, each time for new made-up reasons and settling them was getting harder, which drove him out of his mind.

One rainy day, in an empty cafe, he sat and drank coffee alone. The cost had accumulated so much that he had just been forced to fire the waitress, which was really difficult for him to bear. The ringing of his cell phone shattered the black thoughts that swarmed his head.

“Yes?”

“So where are you, my brother! Why d’ye sound so as if it all had blown up in your face!”

Smile cheered up Victor’s face, on recognizing Jolly’s voice.

“Where are you, my brother! How glad I am to hear from you!!!”

“Well… why aren’t you calling back? Shall I send that airline ticket or not?“

He was staring at the empty street and the drizzling rain, something broke in his chest.

“Brother, get me out of here,” he said through his gritted teeth. “I can’t wait… to get out of this fucking dump.”

“Ok,” Victor heard Jolly laughing. “I’m sending you the number right away, which you will contact to get a visa for your passport, then I’m sending you the air ticket by e-mail. See you in a few days.”

Victor wasted no time but at once invited for a drink an old friend and the War Veterans chairman.

Punctual like a clock, parking the powerful motorcycle engine by the patio, Wolf shuffled in leather pants, a black T-shirt, and in his distinctive leather vest with various emblems. That difficult walk he knew so well was the testimony of a man who went through hoops and loops, on a body full of war shrapnels, as lasting reminders from various battlefields.

They greeted each other warmly as always and seated at Victor’s favorite table, and at the same time, Victor handed him the last blue envelope he had received.

As Victor brought coffee and drinks, Wolf paid heed to read it.

“Fuck me if they’re normal. It says the fine is for spreading ethnic hatred by playing nationalist music. You can’t find shit like this in the weirdest of comedy. The whole city knows you’re playing that foreign crap, not the folk sound!”

Victor laughed bitterly and sat across his old friend. “You see, brother, that’s why I called you. Since things are that way, I want to hand you over this business. Anyway, your club is famous for the kind of music I get fined for,” he said, sipping his coffee.

“You want to give me your bar?” Wolf stammered. “Hello, I can’t afford a cost to have it!”

“Whoever mentioned a cost? I said let me hand you over the bar. At no cost, bro.”

“To hand me over the bar? No money? For free?”

“Like I said.”

Wolf stared at him, frowning. “Are you fuckin’ with me? What’s the stunt here?”

“No, I’m not pulling a stunt on you, or jeering you either. These knaves have been pushing me away for over a year now, I’m fed up with their shitload, let them stick their blue envelopes in their assess, I’ve decided to quit. And if I’m to leave the place, I’m gonna leave it to someone like you, who knows how to work and can be trusted. Let them have some more of the music they fine me for, make it on me!”

Wolf guffawed. “Brother, if that’s the case, everything will be shaking. And no one is gonna push me away, I want to look in the eye that fagot who will try. I’m going to fuck the hell out of their fatty rotten asses, I’d rather burn this place down than leave it to some political sleazeball.”

They both laughed and Victor knew that Wolf was a man of his word.

In a good mood, Wolf pulled out a cigarette and lit it with pleasure.

Victor left nothing to chance. The next day, he handed the cafe over to Wolf and his men and sold out the wrecked car and the rest of the stuff he had in stock at bargain prices, just to get rid of that bother.

He felt that he had crossed an imaginary threshold and with all his heart he wanted to get rid of everything that had tied him to this old way of life. He knew that he was at the beginning of something new and exciting, something utterly unlike this monotonous life.

Jolly kept his word, and two days later a plane ticket arrived in his email inbox, which he would use to travel to Paris fifteen days later, where not only Jolly would be waiting for him, but it would also be a formal start of his new life.

On the day of the trip, he decided to ask one of the girls to take him to the airport since he had no car since the car accident.

She came to pick him up at the agreed time, so he threw his bag in her trunk and sat down next to her, putting a light kiss on her cheek.

“So you’re leaving, huh?“ she asked as soon as he sat in the car.

Victor stared at her before quickly checking that he had all the papers in his pocket next to his passport.

“Yes, I’m leaving, but I’ll be back.”

“When are you coming back? Coming soon?”

“I don’t know exactly, but of course I’ll be back,” Victor said, laughing softly.

“I don’t know, I heard people talking differently,” she said, frowning her face.

“Who’s been talking?”

“The whole town. They say that you sold the bar and that you no longer intend to return here.”

“I don’t give a fuck what the town is saying,” Victor exclaimed. “Don’t they have something better to do but to talk about me?”

She looked at him seriously and lit a cigarette as she steered the car onto the main road.

“You know what’s new in my life? Dragan asked me to marry him.”

“You’re kidding,” he said in surprise.

“Yes. He asked me the other day. He wants me to be his wife, and I don’t know what to do.”

“Well, do whatever you want, I mean, whatever makes you happy,” Victor said, slightly indifferent.

“Whatever I want?” she exclaimed, blowing out the cigarette smoke.

“Yes,” Victor replied cautiously.

“Well, then I’ll tell you what I want.”

Silence covered them as they turned to the right and stood in the stop lane of the bypass.

Victor froze when he saw her face expression. He knew she didn’t stop for a goodbye lay. He cursed himself for not taking a taxi to the airport.

“I want what I cannot have. You! I’m aware of the fact that you never told me how much I meant in your life. I want you to say that you love me, not to marry Dragan, to wait for you … that’s what I want!”

“Wait,” Victor said timidly. “You know very well that I told you at the beginning that I was not for a serious relationship, that I could not commit…”

“Oh, I know very well you told me that. That, your famous sentence, after the first kiss! After you have seduced me before, enchanted me, when I have already surrendered to you!” she shouted in a hysterical voice, with tears in her eyes. “You have no idea how much it hurts when you know that someone doesn’t want you… when you know that there are other mistresses beside you, and you still live in fucking hope! This man is asking me to marry him even though he knows I fuck with you! And I still shake at your every single touch! You bastard!!” she grabbed his shirt, twisting it, and then fell down, breathless, crying on his chest.

Victor didn’t know what to do, he was shocked, then he tried to hug her, but she pulled away from his hand, continuing to hit him on the chest. He restrained her hands and pulled her to his chest, managing to calm her somehow as she shed tears.

He thought of saying something, but no words were coming to his mind. He did not feel anything so strong as to fulfill her wishes, despite her words, but instead looked into the distance and observed cars passing by unhindered. Over time, she calmed down and turned the wheel, continuing her journey to the airport without saying a single word.

Before the International Departures entrance, she stopped the car and as she wiped tears from her swollen eyes, Victor took the bag from her trunk and looked at her once more. She glanced back, pressed the accelerator, and left. At that moment, he felt relieved and somewhat better, so he stepped toward the front door of the international terminal.

Without any problems, he checked his ticket and bag for a direct flight to Paris. With more than enough time available, he toured the shops, had coffee, and ate a few donuts when the announcement of his flight conveyed him.

There was a turmoil in his chest that he couldn’t define. He headed toward the checkpoint at the Passport check, queuing with others. All the while, he was sure that was what he wanted, but as he came near the scanner, panic seized him, taking his breath away. He got out of the row and sat down in a nearby chair, feeling sweat sliding down his back. A million thoughts flew through his head when he realized that he was changing his life forever, going to unknown places to do unknown tasks and that except for Jolly, he had no friends he could rely on, not even for the smallest thing. Completely alone and without family or friends, he felt the weight on his heart choking him.

In sadness and panic, he recalled the finals of a regional basketball cup when he made his senior crew debut as a young 17-year-old player, entering the second half because of a referee’s attitude, who expelled three of his older players and more experienced crewmates due to five personal fouls. The opposing crew forced fouls on him, and young Victor couldn’t score a single free throw due to panicking, while panic grew with every missed free throw. In the last minute of the match with a draw, a foul was called over him, and, after missing the first free throw, he bounced off the line cursing out loud. The experienced captain approached him and shook him, grabbing him by the shoulders.

“Stop whining!! You can fucking do it! Get back on the line and score it! It’s now coming in 100%! Come on, go back and put it in!”

He returned to the line and picked up the ball, bouncing it three times as always, inhaled and while exhaling, tossed it, tearing the net for the victory. The captain’s words are still echoing in his head, as they did then.

He laughed at himself, took his backpack, and returned to the queue, loaded his backpack into the scanner, passing the passport check without a problem. Hearing the repeated announcement for his flight, he just laughed. There was no panic anymore.

Legal false identity

Hours later, he landed in the heart of France, and the first thing he saw after he passed his passport check was Jolly’s smile. Heartily, like lost brothers, they hugged each other before heading out.

Excited by the new world around him, Victor set out with questions.

“When do we start prepping for this new job in Paris?”

“Easy, man, you’ve just arrived,” Jolly laughed. “Give me your passport first.”

“Here you are,” he said, giving him the passport without hesitation. “Do you need it for a new visa?”

Jolly guffawed, storing Victor’s passport in his purse, taking out another passport from the purse.

“The visa process is complete, brother. You will move with this passport from now on and we will keep the original in a security box next to the train station, I’ll show you everything later.”

“A fake passport?” Victor asked, raising his eyebrows as he examined the new passport.

“It’s not fake, what’s wrong with you. It’s more genuine than your personal passport.”

“How’s that?” Victor asked confusedly, looking at his picture in a new passport that looked authentic to him.

“Let me explain. We do not use our personal documents for jobs, but forged documents, because if you get caught, your true identity stays intact,” Jolly explained as they were walking towards the exit and stopped as soon as they left the terminal and got out to the fresh air. “We use local associates, legally employed by institutions, to produce forged documents. That local partner produces counterfeit information in birth certificates and citizenship certificates. Depending on the situation, they sometimes only provide and submit blank forms that would subsequently be used to enter false personal information. Sometimes they also abuse for us existing ID cards and documents attached with requests. Then, based on that documentation, clerks at police stations, believing that to be plausible documentation, enter such data ex officio into the MIA information system, the data are included in the public stream and thus we obtain a new identity based on issued biometric documents. Through our acquaintances within the police, we obtain personal information of persons whose identity is used to produce those biometric documents.”

“And whose data are used for this?”

“Most identities and data used to belong to overseas emigrants who never returned home after the wars, or persons sentenced to years in prison, deceased or mentally ill persons, or more precisely, those who no longer need new documents. Fake passports are thus no longer fake but legal, with data of real people who no longer need the normal everyday world,” he finished with a smile on his lips.

“But there must still be a risk of detection when crossing borders?”

“No risk, brother. The risk of disclosing such a passport is minimal because it was not forged but legally issued on legal birth certificates. It could only be disclosed in case these people returned from abroad or prison, and that’s what these local associates who provide these documents would follow-up for us and notify us if necessary.”

“Amazing… and how do you manage to persuade these people within institutions to risk their well-paying jobs to help you?”

“In some cases, old love or passion, backed by nice and expensive gifts like jewelry, perfumes, wardrobe, or in other cases, simply money makes the main reason… and sometimes all of the above,” Jolly said, remembering the smile and curves of one good-looking assistant from Ministry of Interior who never refused to help him, either on business or private terms.

“But… the issue date is April when you were coming down there?” Victor asked confusedly.

“Yes.”

“So how did you know I would need it?”

“I know you, brother. Come on, let’s leave your passport in our safe box, settle down and eat something and talk about your first task, which won’t be in Paris,” Jolly said.

“But where?”

“London and Zurich. Let’s go.”

Victor’s kick-start

Victor was surprised when Jolly announced his first assignment: to follow-up a trial of two accomplices arrested after a robbery in London last year. This meant that he would have to travel to England with the new fake passport and he didn’t feel comfortable about the idea, but he was aware that he had to do it because, at last, he decided to start in on that new and mysterious life.

A huge stone fell from his heart when he passed his passport check on the English border without any problems, and headed for the hotel, the way Jolly had instructed him to do. The next day, with a fake journalist’s card attached to his jacket’s lapel, he walked quietly into the London Courthouse, taking a seat behind a group of reporters located on a makeshift raised balcony in the middle of a large courtroom. The suspects were introduced from the basement passage into the central enclosure of the courtroom. As soon as the judge came in, he had to get up as others did, and when everyone returned to their seats, he closely followed the opening statement of the prosecutor, in a traditional vestment with a wig on his head.

“Your Honor, for the suspects before you and their boss, named Marko, it only took three minutes to steal jewels from Graff Jewelry in Mayfair, central London, last year. Their boss Marko managed to escape the long arm of the law. Mr. Nesho is suspected of conspiracy to commit armed robbery, as well as is Montenegrin citizen Mr. Milan, who also admitted assisting their leader Marko to get away with the diamonds. A successful police operation has returned a portion of the total £ 27 million worth of jewelry loot, that is, a half million pounds worth blue diamond ring found in a face cream jar at Milan’s home in Bayswater, West London…”

Victor stared at the back of the two suspects and tried to imagine what was going on in their minds. He was sure that he would not feel or look as calm as they did. He shook his head and focused on the prosecutor’s words.

“Nesho, 34 years old, by vocation a cleaner at a hospital in Zurich, Switzerland where he lives, traveled to London on a cheap £ 50 flight one week before participating in the robbery, wearing a black curly wig during the assault. You must be wondering why the jewelry sales staff did not notice and react to such a very strange detail. Specifically, the staff is often interacting with celebrities who often take similar clothing measures to make it easier to navigate the streets of London. Nesho pointed his Magnum pistol at the staff as Marko filled the bag with jewels and ran away. Our next witness, the security guard on duty that day Simon Steerman, took proper defensive steps and grabbed Nesho, managing to disarm him and hold him until the police arrived. Marko, seeing what happened, fled to Hammersmith in panic, telling Milan that he had lost the man. Milan then helped him escape.”

The prosecutor sat down again, and then Victor noticed a man of imposing appearance sitting in the gray suit in the witness stand. The prosecutor presented him for the record and after a few introductory questions, they came at the most interesting part.

“I thought he was going to shoot,” Steerman said. “I was afraid someone would die and I knew I had to do something, so I knocked him to the ground. I thought if I let him go, he would shoot me. As we fell to the ground, he dropped his gun and fired, the bullet bounced off the building and unfortunately pierced a woman across the face, who was crossing the street at that moment. The bullet caused her nose to bleed.”

What a hell of a fucked up luck, Victor thought.

After the hearing, the guard left the witness room while the prosecutor continued the process.

“Nesho was acquitted for charges of attempted aggravated bodily harm but was convicted on two counts for unauthorized possession of a firearm. He denied conspiracy to commit robbery during the investigation, saying he was forced to do so because Marko’s friends threatened his family. He also stated in his statement that they had planned the robbery of the jewelry store a few days earlier, but they delayed the robbery when they heard the police helicopter. Police believe and have strong indications that Nesho and Marko are members of the Balkan group known as Pink Panthers, which has been investigated against for the theft of £ 17m in diamond jewelry in Tokyo this spring. I would now ask Detective Inspector Andy Dunn, who conducted the investigation, to come forward.”

Victor glanced around to see who he was talking about and was a little disappointed by the appearance of an older manikin in a dark blue suit.

“This was a planned raid of exclusive jewelry stores by an organized criminal association from Eastern Europe,” the detective said aloud. “First, before the robbery itself, the suspects carried out detailed reconnaissance prep surveys at the store before deciding for the robbery itself. I must emphasize that they were ready to use genuine weapons to successfully carry out the robbery and to escape. Twenty-seven million pounds worth jewelry was stolen. As already mentioned, we found a half-million-pound worth blue diamond ring in a face cream jar that belonged to Milan’s girlfriend at their rented house in Bayswater. Nesho is considered a member of the Balkan gang which has been robbing jewelers across Europe, and the fact that it only took them three minutes to commit a robbery with his boss Marko tells us that this gang is a very serious threat consisting of professionals. Nesho was apprehended by the swift response of the jewelry security staff, even though he was armed, while Milan, the son of a wealthy businessman in Montenegro, helped Marko escape to France. We’re still looking for that certain boss Marko.”

The prosecutor thanked the detective, who stepped down from the witness stand and bowed to Judge Gerald Gordon, who stirred in his leather chair before taking his word.

“Sir, you played for high stakes,” said the judge, looking at Nesho. “To achieve your unlawful goals, you have taken with you and used a fully functional and fully loaded Magnum gun and threatened the jewelry staff, leaving them with visible and long-lasting psychic and physical traces that will never be erased. Your actions were inhumane and insensitive, both to the innocent and to the society as a whole. That is why I sentence you to fifteen years in prison for conspiracy to commit robbery, six years for possessing a weapon, and seven years for using a weapon in resisting arrest. Based on the evidence, I convict your accomplice Milan to five and a half years in prison for conspiracy to commit robbery and three years in prison for possession of stolen loot, i.e. the diamond ring. All of the aforementioned penalties run concurrently.” The judge paused for a breath and continued in a stern tone. “Nesho, who entered the UK with a tourist visa, will be deported once his sentence has expired. Finally, this court recognizes the hard work and courage of the jewelry store employees who are ultimately credited with bringing justice to an end. From public funds, I would award £ 700 each to security guards Simon Steerman and Clinton Delo for displaying exceptional courage in assisting with the arrest. During the search of Milan’s house, 7,000 pounds were found of the unknown origin, which I also award to the guards. Once again, thank you very much on behalf of the people of Great Britain. Hereby the trial is concluded.”

Judge Gordon stood up, forcing everyone else to do the same. Victor waited for everyone to come out, snapping the camera several times like the others, so as not to arouse suspicion.

In the fresh air outside the courthouse, he paused on the steps and breathed in lustily the freedom. There was no way he could get his countrymen out of his head and the grievous fate that had befallen them. Worried and lost in thought, he walked along the Thames River, staring at the sheer volume of water flowing toward the sea. Boats, tourists, and red London buses didn’t impress him too much. He stopped by the railing and enjoyed the gentle breeze caressing his cheeks.

“So many years in prison, fuck,” he said with a deep sigh. “Well, do I need all that shit in my life?“ he asked himself, exhaling both the air and his worries.

Then, he remembered the cafe problems, the blue envelopes, all those mornings where he woke up with a headache, shattering his head with thoughts and ideas on how to close and survive the month. He looked around and suddenly realized.

“Fuck, I’ve already lived in prison,” he said, laughing to himself, breathing in the air of freedom.

For the first time, he laughed at his luck and another opportunity, even if it was illegal.

He stopped by the hotel and picked up his belongings and, taking the London subway, headed for the airport where a flight to Zurich was waiting for him.

Before he sat down in his airplane seat, he totally forgot his empathy for countrymen. He accepted their fate as the risk of the work they all do together. The pretty stewardess with decent makeup reminded him of Jacqueline and her makeup skills. He smiled back at her and ordered a whiskey, which she brought to him as soon as they reached a proper altitude.

He was calm until his passport check-in Zurich, where his heart fluttered for a moment in a moment of mild panic, but as he scored the decisive point in the game years ago, so now he approached the customs officer coldbloodedly and walked through the corridor with a smile.

As he exited the airport building, he grabbed the first taxi driver, settled into the back seat, and handed out a small piece of paper with an address on it. The taxi driver just nodded and got involved in the traffic. Driving past the buildings along the streets of Zurich, he noticed at once the Swiss purity and beauty of their architecture. If someone had thrown him off a plane, he would have recognized at once the typical style by which Switzerland is planetary popular.

The taxi stopped in front of a building, Victor handed several bills to the driver and came out with a bag on his shoulder. Nonchalantly, he walked into the hallway and immediately headed for the mailboxes. Finding the name he was looking for, he looked around, and when he was sure he was alone, he pulled a thick envelope out of his pocket, quickly scanned the money in it, and stuffed it in the mailbox.

Across the building, he saw a cafe and carefully crossed the road, sat on the balcony and took coffee, juice, and croissants, which looked so appealing in the large display case. Finishing his breakfast, he saw Nesho’s wife enter the hallway and check the mailbox. He recognized her from the picture Jolly had shown him. He smiled when he noticed how she was clearly confused holding a thick envelope in her hand. As she held the envelope in her right, she pulled out a small note with her left hand, standing there for a moment reading, before she threw the envelope into her bag, running up the stairs.

Victor smiled contentedly, paid the bill, and took a taxi to the train station. Having bought a ticket for the Paris train, he recalled buying some Swiss chocolate before boarding it. He sank into a sweet nap, pleased to have successfully completed the first task before the locomotive started the train for Paris.

Return to Paris - Louvre Heist, $14M

September 25, 2004

Yellow leaves rustling under his feet reminded him of the days of his early youth and the memories when he hated going to school after the summer break. The coldness of the morning sun and the sound of rustling made him feel like a boy in an adult’s body. The perfection of the moment was spoiled by cigarette smoke that caught his face as he strolled the streets of Paris with Jolly.

They could reach their destinations faster by a taxi, but the romantic idea of absorbing a Paris morning prevailed. His legs were starting to ache already when he broke out to the famous square, which he had seen many times on television and in movies.

“Here,” Jolly said, shaking his ashes and tossing the cigarette butt. “As you can see, that’s our new target.”

Victor stared at the famous building, then at Jolly, opening his mouth in astonishment.

“Are you crazy? Fucking Louvre? Are you kidding me here?”

“No, what’s the matter?”

“I hope you don’t want us to filch Mona Lisa?!” Victor exclaimed.

Jolly had a sweet laugh. “No, you crazy bastard! Look a little better! That big poster to the right!”

Victor did as he told him and at second glance, he really noticed a big blue-white advertisement:

Biennial of Antiques at the Carrousel du Louvre, 15-28 September

More than 100 dealers of antiques and jewelry

Noticing Victor’s foolish gaze, he proceeded quickly to clarify his idea.

“The diamonds will be taken from the showcase at this antique and jewelry vendor exhibition at the Louvre Museum Complex. Our goal is two diamonds from the Chopard stand at the Paris Biennale. There you go.”

Victor raised his eyebrows. “And that’s the job? Just two diamonds?”

“Just two diamonds?” Jolly repeated laughing. “Come on, if it’s just two diamonds, go in and get them.”

“No, I thought…”

“What did you think? That we were going to steal a truck full of gemstones? The biggest diamonds are our target… they are on the far left of their showcase, which is a 47-carat white diamond worth about $ 7.4 million and the second gem is a 15.74-carat blue diamond worth about 6.7 millions of dollars,” Jolly finished, pulling a photo out of his pocket. “Here, these are the pictures, look at them yourself to know exactly which gems I mean. Dora took these pictures yesterday using the pen-camera that we used already before in Antwerp.”

“Why don’t we go inside now to see if everything remained the same as in the photos?”

“Why not? We already wasted our shoe soles and time to come here.”

The exhibit was packed with interested visitors, security members, salespeople, and experts at the stands, a real little commerce jungle that Victor liked at first glance.

In no hurry, they slowly approached the target stand, observing the surroundings meticulously from all sides all the time.

“The display cabinet does not seem to be under alarm,” Jolly said softly to Victor’s ear. “Notice how they open it without any additional delay to enter a code.”

“Yes, but there are security cameras all around though, like a lot of shit. I’m just sweating like a whore in church,” Victor said.

Jolly giggled at Victor’s comparison. “Fortunately, no camera is even close to our target space. This kind of security overlook is a rarity.”

Victor stared at a pretty saleswoman opening nonchalantly the drawer on the diamond cabinet.

“Fuck, you’re right! The drawer has no alarm at all,” Victor shouted softly. “Do these guys seek to be robbed or what…”

“Obviously… but look to the opposite side.”

Victor did as he told him and stared at the other side where a large Cartier stand was located.

“Do you see that pink-brownish diamond? This is a 128.48-carat diamond, the Star of the South, one of the most famous diamonds in the world, and it was put up for sale by Cartier.”

“Will we swipe that one too?“ Victor asked.

Jolly noticed the glow in Victor’s eye and was thrilled by this genuine enthusiasm. “No. We won’t because that one wasn’t ordered. Let’s go to the museum now.”

Victor accepted the proposal with joy as he has never seen those works of art live. They went along with the works of top artists, admiring sporadically this true and unique beauty, but apart from the paintings, their eyes noticed other details.

“The security measures for the exhibition are not connected with the museum security itself,” Jolly said, stopping at the last painting just next to the museum area that was blocked to the public.

“How do you know?” Victor asked.

“There are no official Louvre guards, no electrical power lines from the museum’s route to the exhibition area. Only there are individual guards at each stand, which means that private local security has been hired,” Jolly said, winking at him. “All right, that’s enough for the first day, let’s run now.”

In no hurry, they went out with a group of tourists from the museum, catching the first taxi that was within their reach. Only when they got into the cab and made sure that the driver from Nigeria did not understand one word, Jolly relaxed a little.

“Fuck me if I know how to do this job. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I know how the job is to be done, I smash the showcases and swipe the diamonds, but escape seems like an impossible mission, we wouldn’t get to the first corner. They would catch us as some kids craving chocolate from the store.”

He expected an answer that was not coming. He glanced at Victor, who for a long moment was staring pensively out the window, frowning.

“This job…,” Victor began slowly, “…will have to be done in broad daylight, at the busiest place in Paris… which means there must be no violence.”

“Yes, of course… as they will hand them over without violence,” Jolly said mockingly.

Victor turned his head and stared at him, then said, “We’ll see about that.”

Victor’s ingenuity

Paris, Sep 27, 2004

Raindrops that were splashing against the window wouldn’t let Jolly get up. He enjoyed every moment of the stillness of autumn early morning, feeling serene, tucked under the blanket.

“Get up, soldier,” Victor yelled, shaking the sleeping Jolly on the shoulder. “Come on, get up! Shame on you, it’s noon already!”

Jolly reluctantly opened his eyes, barely recognizing Victor. “What’s wrong with you! What’s the hurry, man? See how rain is drizzling, perfect to just be lying down.”

“Fuck the rain. There’s work to be done!” Victor said excitedly.

“When you mention the job, where were you all day yesterday?” Jolly asked.

Victor sat on the edge of the bed and winked. “And where were you? I was in the scouting mode again yesterday. I noticed the shift change of the guards at our stand was at three o’clock in the afternoon. That’s when we’re gonna attack. Ah, yes. I also met a pal of mine who’s gonna help us. And something else. Jacqueline arrived last night, so I settled her in a hotel. She’s here right now, so it would be nice if you care to join us in the sitting room, and coffee is waiting for you, just the way you like it!

Jolly hopped up, his eyes wide in wonder.

„You said what, who’s in the living room?!“ 

“Jacqueline! Wake up at last! Now I just told you that…”

“Wait, wait! What pal, whom do you involve without informing me, and why? And what Jacqueline, man? Didn’t we say that we are to tell no one about the job crib, that we don’t bring chicks here!?” Jolly looked at him earnestly, wishing he realized what they were to do is no game, but Victor’s enthusiasm couldn’t be stifled even by the most serious of looks.

“Jolly, brother, it’s the work exactly why she is here, though,” he said, smiling.

“Stop!” Jolly exclaimed, panic-stricken. “Are you fucking crazy?! We said we wouldn’t tell anyone anything about the job! Are you aware of what we do?!”

“It’s clear to me, I didn’t get to explain it to you yesterday, but now I will, it will be all clear to you!! I worked out the whole plan and without Jacqueline, it won’t work, we can just blow it! Come on, do the bathroom chore, and come, coffee’s waiting!” Victor finished and got up from the bed and went into the kitchen, leaving Jolly alone and confused.

Wasting no time, Jolly pulled on his jeans and the first closest shirt from the chair and headed toward the smell of coffee in the living room.

He recognized at once Jacqueline, sitting in the arm-chair. He came to her with a reluctant welcome, then he sat down across her, sipping his coffee in pregnant silence.

That’s when Victor joined them, carrying one coffee for himself too.

In his pants, Jolly felt the pack of cigarettes he had bought yesterday, pulled one out and lit it, waiting for either of the two to explain this situation.

“Is it always this quiet here with you guys, or is it just when you have guests?” Jacqueline asked with an ironic smile on the lips with nice makeup.

“Jacquie,” Victor began, “Let’s get that gear of yours ready.”

“Why not,” she said, putting her cup down on the table, getting up and taking her bag from by the armchair.

You could well cut by a knife the awkward silence.

Jolly gaped absentmindedly at her curves as she left to another room, shaking his leg nervously as if he had suddenly got Parkinson’s disease while blowing out the cigarette smoke like a steam locomotive.

“Victor!” he raised his voice, grabbing his sleeve before he left the room. “Now listen to me carefully. We cannot do business like this, on one’s own hook, without planning and agreement. We are not fucking amateurs. And what the fuck do we need her for? Why would you trust her? What at all did you tell her about the job?!”

Fuck me if this guy hasn’t lost his mind, this is total chaos. Whom did I call to help me with my jobs?! I have to get rid of him as soon as she gets out of the flat, Jolly thought to himself, palming his forehead.

“First,” as if he knew what he was thinking, Victor began calmly, “…this is not a standard business. After all, that’s why you invited me, then, we need an elegant female assistant with particular skills, and she is ideal for this kind of job,” he said, grabbing a newspaper from the table, tossing it into Jolly’s lap. “Read the front page, bottom right in the corner”.

Jolly let his sleeve go and did as he was told. “Prime Minister Jean Raffarin and his wife Marie Perrier continue their working visit to the Chamber of Commerce today,” he read, looking at him bewildered. “What’s that to us?”

“Read on, all the way down at the end,” Victor said, sneering.

Jolly lowered his head and continued reading out loud. “Within the working meetings, the Prime Minister and the delegation will visit the Diamond Biennale in the Louvre Museum at 3 p.m.,” he paused, still staring at Victor. “This is even worse now! That means even more security and, above all, even the Secret Service!”

“You’re absolutely right. More security, but focused on the other side, far from our stand,” he said, winking.

Further discussion was interrupted by Jacqueline, exiting the bedroom.

“Everything is ready. Who’s coming first?”

„Just a moment, my darling, please,” Viktor said, glancing at her. Then he continued quietly.

“Brother…I know you’re angry that I didn’t tell you anything, but trust me I didn’t have time. Yesterday when I was scouting, I spent a couple of hours at Biennale once again, So I got downcast and went to have a coffee at our place in Marais. There I saw this news on TV! I was already about to meet the guy who’s gonna help us, then, seeing how this news fit in perfectly, I decided to bring Jacqueline as well. She accepted right away, I bought her a ticket, met her at the airport, settled her in a hotel, and the day slipped off before I realized it. Honor me, my brother, let me try and work this idea out. Look, if my plan fails, I promise you that from tomorrow I’ll never do anything on my own again without consulting you first! Is it okay?” Viktor tapped his shoulder, getting up to set off to Jacqueline.

“You seem to think this is kinda’ child play. No tomorrow if we fail, you hear me, did you ever hear of the cops, the big house slammer?! Obviously, you were never in jail!” Jolly shrieked.

“Don’t worry, it will be just alright. If you agree that we try this way. Let me explain the plan to you now,” Viktor said, scribbling something on a paper.

“Ok, come on,” Jolly said briefly, shrugged his shoulders, shaking his head anxiously while pulling out a new cigarette. He noticed a bottle of whiskey under the table and poured himself a double dose without thinking twice. Nervousness gave no rest to his feet.

In a while, Victor went to the other room. Jolly got up a couple of minutes afterward and peeked through the semi-opened door. He was so shocked that his cigarette almost fell out of his lips. In addition to the unpleasant sour smell, he was more surprised by Victor’s hair made sleek with some cream or lotion, covered in a transparent plastic cap and his dull smile as Jacqueline concentrated on doing his makeup.

After a couple of minutes, he barely recognized his comrade who looked twice as old, with gray hair and a wrinkled face. To say that he was stunned is but a mild expression.

“What do you say, brother, huh?” Victor asked.

Jolly got up slowly and approached, touching the wrinkles on his face.

“How’s that possible?” Jolly whispered.

“Easy. Jacqueline is one of the best makeup artists in Europe,” he said, grinning. “Come on, what’re you waiting for. Now it’s your turn.”

Jolly smiled, “I don’t know… But come on, I’m curious to see how I would look like as an old man.”

Victor laughed while Jacqueline was already waiting for him ready to repeat the makeup procedure.

She spread contents of her makeup pouch on the table, grabbed a plastic container waving Victor out. As soon as she started to work on his head, observing her every calculated move with her hands, Jolly saw that he was in prof’s hands and decided to relax.

About half an hour later, two old friends, standing side by side, looked at each other in the mirror and marveled.

“Fuck, I look like I’m fifty,” Jolly said in amazement.

“Brother, you look better than fucking George Clooney,” Victor said, catching his bewildered look, laughing out loud, along with Jacqueline.

When the laughter calmed down, Jolly’s nervousness emerged again. “Ok, this is nice and original, but what next? What about the next step?”

Victor nodded calmly, then took his cell phone out of his pocket, dialing a number quickly. He pressed the speakerphone key for everyone to hear the conversation.

‘Hello?’ a sweet female voice said on the other side.

“So where are you, sweetie!” Victor asked.

“Hey! Heck, where are you?!”

“I am in Paris, beautiful! And where are you?”

‘I’m at home right now, in the Balkans. I came to see my family.’

“Really?”

‘Yeah, really. Fuck.’

“And I say fuck. Too bad I didn’t find you here. But, sweetie, let me ask you something.”

‘Ask, my dear.’

“You remember when you told me at the cafe that you would definitely come home permanently because fashion shows didn’t provide enough to cover for living costs. And you’re not one of those who want to fuck for money.”

‘I remember.’

“So, you see, could you give me a contact phone from your colleague models who want to?”

‘To – what?’

“Well, to fuck for money,” he said, listening to her sweet giggle.

‘Wow, sweetie, since when did you start paying for these things?’

“Relax, sweetie, it’s not for me… but for some business dinner I’m organizing.”

‘Come on, let it be. I’ll send you a number in a message to call. You will contact Duke. And when you come back, make sure to call me.’

“I promise, dear, I will call you. Come on, don’t forget to send me the number, please.”

‘What’s wrong with you. I’m sending it right away.’

„You’re a sweetheart! Kiss, I’ll see you soon!” he said, folding his cell phone, looking at the curious faces of Jolly and Jacqueline.

“What? What are you staring at? Like at a dancing bear? Come on, I’m taking you to Hemingway for a drink.”

Tumult in Louvre

An hour later, two middle-aged elegantly dressed gentlemen of about fifty years old, entered the full Hemingway Bar at the Ritz Hotel. Victor and Jolly, dressed in trademarked Italian suits with Jacqueline in the middle, who has used her skills to add to herself about twenty years. Dressed in a beautiful long dress with a short light blue wig on her head, she almost didn’t look like herself at all.

“Too bad I don’t like old chicks, I’d hit on you right away,” Victor said, glancing at her figure.

“You can but just know right away, this old chick loves youngsters.”

As the two of them laughed, there was nothing funny for Jolly, so he nervously told them: “Come on, love birds, let’s get to business!”

“Toast to the newlyweds,” Victor said, pulling Jacqueline with him, as they sat down at the bar stools. “Fuck, I almost forgot,” he said, pulling his cell phone out of his pocket and typing in numbers.

“Where are you! Are you ready? Okay, I’ll meet you there before 3 p.m. As soon as we leave the bar, I’ll let you know.”

“That’s your pall?“ Jolly asked.

“Sure, don’t worry,” Victor winked at him, as he was dialing a new number.

“Hello, Duke. We are here in Hemingway. Where are the girls? Are they here?” he looked inquisitively at Jacqueline. “Waiting here already? Okay, come on, I’ll find them here then. Bye.”

“What did he say? They are here already? “Jacqueline asked in her seductive voice.

“He says so,” he said, folding his cell phone while looking at the crowd.

“There, in the middle, four pretty girls are sitting at a table,” Jacqueline said enthusiastically.

“Come on, you get to them, it’ll be less obtrusive,” Victor said.

She got up without talking and walked gallantly to the table with the beauties.

“Hello,” she greeted them in fluent English with a smile. “My pretty ladies, I would like to introduce you to my fiancée and his business partner. As agreed, today we will be hanging out with some friends who are coming to our wedding. How about some champagne?”

“Well, champagne is always welcome,” one of the pretty girls with long blond hair replied. “But who are you? What agreement are you talking about?”

Jacqueline looked confused. “Wait. What … you are not the models that Duke sent?”

The girls at the table had a sweet laugh. “Unfortunately, we are not. It must be a misunderstanding, though it’s nice to hear you take us for models. We’re stewardesses, but it’s not like we wouldn’t like to meet some dukes too.”

“And to marry them, to get out of air travel forever,” added the other, and increased their laughter.

“Sorry for the annoyance, really,” Jacqueline said, and looked around the bar and noticed in the corner four even prettier girls in even shorter skirts. “I seem to have noticed the ones I’m looking for. Have a good day.”

Jacqueline smiled and went to the pretty girls in the corner. They stared at the beautiful, middle-aged, elegant woman who approached them resolutely.

“Duke?” Jacqueline asked.

They nodded in acknowledgment and moved a little in the booth so she could sit. She waved her hand briefly and Jolly and Victor immediately stood up, joining the cheerful company.

While they were settling in, Jacqueline was already talking to her new friends about their makeup, their nails, and their hair, throwing compliments around that came to the fertile soil.

Champagne found its way to their table and soon everybody toasted to future middle-aged newly-weds.

Jolly couldn’t resist looking up and down at each model individually, though he knew he wouldn’t end up with any of them. There’s no room for pleasure when doing business.

„What’re you looking at, which one would be your pick for a good lay?“ Victor whispered to him.

„Heck, no… I mean, yes, heck… just this one in the pink dress at the end of the table. Note that three of them are noticeably skinny, almost underfed, only this one in the pink dress with lush curves would make an attractive woman, as for me.“

„Brother, your criterion of female attractiveness is not the same as that of the gay lobby which controls the fashion industry… I believe they make them starve to the edge of feebleness and insist on their being skinny because they unconsciously wish to turn them into boys of whom they fantasize…“

Meanwhile, Jacqueline acted being a little tipsy. “Well, honey, this is really not right. We are having toasts to our wedding here, and you haven’t yet even bought me a wedding ring!” she said.

“Really!” one of the girls exclaimed. “So where’s a ring on this beautiful hand?” she said, raising Jacqueline’s hand slightly.

“Oh, that’s really bad on my part,” Victor said. “We should handle it today! So why don’t we all together go to the Diamond Biennale in Louvre so that you, my love, and our new girlfriends, choose the ring you like best?”

The girls whooped in the same tonality as Jacqueline did.

“Well then, I propose a toast to that name,” Jolly said, raising his glass, smiling happily at Victor. The concept of the game was fully realizing.

Tossing off their glasses, the little company got up from the table and headed out of the bar.

Jolly instinctively headed off toward taxis parked down the street, but Victor’s hand stopped him.

“Where are you going?” Victor said softly. “When we go, then we go with style,” he said, nodding toward a black limo, which stopped silently in front of the bar.

The sighs of admiring girls could not be ignored.

“Brother, you spent quite a lot on this scheme,” Jolly said through his gritted teeth. 

“Bro, you view all this from the wrong side. This is not an expense, but an investment! Come on in,” he said, gently pushing him toward the open door held by the uniformed driver. The girls already screamed inside and poured chilled champagne.

The atmosphere in the lavish interior was more than cheerful. The girls swayed to the rhythm of the music blaring from the speakers, creating the perfect image, just as Victor had imagined it in the previous days.

Arriving at the Biennale, the black sedan attracted curious glances. The camaraderie that came out of it looked like a group of Hollywood stars.

Everyone but Victor was smiling and socializing, who was talking quietly on his cell phone.

“We’re here, we’re going to the stand now. Are you ready?”

‘I am.’

“Ok,” Victor said, raising his thumb briefly then whispering to Jolly. “Everything’s ready. So, we’re going to the stand, and you’ll let me know as soon as these political shitheads come in.”

Jolly just nodded without saying a word, finding a spot from which he had a perfect view of the main entrance.

While Jolly kept watch, the cheerful company toured the stands, looking at the rings, but Jacqueline couldn’t make up her mind, delaying the search, and also bothering the vendors with various questions.

Victor quickly glanced at his watch and noticed that it would be almost 3 pm. Not far from them, at Chopard’s stand, one of the two guards went to hand over the shift. A couple minutes later, Victor’s phone vibrated.

“Say it.”

‘They’re just coming in,’ Jolly said.

“Okay,” he said, and made another brief call, “Get ready.” Then he hurried toward Jacqueline and the girls. “My pretty ladies, I hate to break the party, but could this quest be a little faster?”

Jacqueline caught his eye and immediately recognized the sign for action. She skipped two stands and stood amazed at the right side of the Chopard’s display shelf.

“Oh, look at this beauty!” she whooped with delight. “Each and every one of these is beautiful!”

The girls in her entourage followed her reaction, admiring the variety of rings, showering the saleswomen with many questions.

“Woo-hoo! Look at this one!” Jacqueline screamed enthusiastically, tapping her index finger on the display glass! „I want this one! It’s beautiful!”

The saleswoman saw her touch the glass, then gently touched her by the hand.

“Ma’am, please, without touching and tapping on the glass. Please tell me which ring you want…”

“How dare you?!” Jacqueline screamed, shaking her hand abruptly. “Why are you touching me? Why are you pushing me?!”

The saleswoman raised her eyebrows, confused by her performance. “I didn’t push you, ma’am, I just…”

“What’s this rude behavior towards clients about?! How dare you push me away from your stand?!,” Jacqueline continued in an even angrier tone, causing a scene and curious looks.

Victor quickly got into the discussion, frowning completely.

“My love, what’s the matter? Which one of these primitives pushed you?!”

The saleswoman glanced at her colleagues, who immediately alarmed the security guard who was standing near them. Within two seconds, a discreetly dressed guard slipped into them, trying to calm the situation.

“Please, ladies and gentlemen, calm down, and let’s resolve this situation quietly.”

“Don’t you calm us down, as if we were some savages! Your colleague is behaving inappropriately! And you can’t…”

Victor’s tirade was interrupted by a pleasant female voice over the PA system, cherishing his ears like a favorite song. ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Visitors, I ask you for your kind attention… and to welcome our Prime Minister of France Jean-Pierre Raffarin and his wife Anne-Marie Perrier!

All heads immediately turned to the entourage on the other side, and then spontaneous thunderous applause erupted that deafened his ears, slowly extinguishing as the honorable guests moved away toward the interior of the exhibition.

“I have nothing more to argue with you!” Victor exclaimed, tapping his palm on the display shelf. “Let’s go, my love! We can well leave our money elsewhere!”

He grabbed her upper arm tightly and pulled her to the other side, away from the stand and distraught saleswomen, leaving the young girls in their escort in dubiety.

After a brief reflection, the confused models began to follow Victor and Jacqueline toward the exit. Their hopping walk in high heels and mini-skirts glued attention to everyone, arousing lust in male eyes.

Walking past the entrance, Victor winked to Jolly to follow them, and without looking back, they headed for the limo that was waiting a little further down the street.

“You were perfect,” he whispered in her ear.

“Likewise, Victor.”

“You and the girls take a cab, tell them I’m very angry. They are already paid through Duke; they have nothing to shit about. And when you get rid of them, come to the apartment. Once again, you were excellent.”

By the limo, they parted. Jacqueline led the girls in a taxi as they agreed, while Jolly and Victor leaned back into the limo’s leather seats, followed with a slight squeak of tires.

“So? Where’s your guy?” Jolly asked nervously.

Victor was looking out the tinted window.

“I asked you something,” Jolly repeated in a louder tone.

“What, wait up!” Viktor replied, without taking his eyes off the window, then he suddenly shouted to the driver: “Stop here on the right side.”

At the behest, the limo stopped just along the side of the road and Victor hastily opened the door. In a blink of an eye, a man in a leather jacket and black pants sat on the seat next to them, smiling enigmatically.

Victor closed the door and waved off to the driver to continue. He pressed a button and the tinted barrier rose silently between them and the driver. He extended his hand without a word and the mysterious newcomer took two diamonds out of his pocket. They fell silently into Victor’s palm, one larger of 47 carats and one smaller, blue, of 16 carats. He glanced at them and immediately passed them to Jolly, whose face illuminated, he couldn’t take his eyes off the diamonds.

“Brother,” Victor said proudly, “let me introduce you to our countryman, the highest-paid gymnast in the world. Our famous Puma. His nickname tells you everything. A man makes 20,000 Euros in two minutes’ work, so he earns more money per minute than Ronaldinho,” Victor said, pulling out a thick envelope, handing it to Puma. “I told you, my Puma, this will be more profitable for you than stealing art paintings.”

“It’s not exactly two minutes, pal, it was two hours of work, when we count yesterday’s reconnaissance,” he said, stuffing the envelope into the inside pocket of his jacket.

“If it’s not a problem,” Jolly said, “can you tell me how did you rip them off?”

“Not at all,” Puma said proudly. “In agreement with Victor, I was waiting for the speaker to announce the Prime Minister’s entry. I was hanging out near Victor and his girls. I bent down to tie a shoestring when the planned scene and discussion arose near the right side of the exhibit shelf followed with the arrival of the Prime Minister. Right then, I squirmed into the half-bridge at the bottom of the left side of the exhibit shelf beside the targeted diamonds, quickly opened the drawer with my left hand enough to pull out both diamonds, pushed the drawer back and returned to the initial position of tying the shoestring, briskly got up and disappeared into the crowd, which was preoccupied with the fucking prime minister. There was enough tumult to remain unnoticed.”

“So, you managed to snatch them in front of the noses of the security guys and saleswomen, without anyone noticing you!” Jolly said in amazement.

“Fuck, that’s why you got me, bro,” Victor said. “A fake conflict, political delegation, crowd, cunts in miniskirts, an ideal diversion for our Puma. I can only imagine the shock on their faces when they figure out, they fell short of two diamonds.”

They had a sweet laugh, while the diamonds rested safely at the bottom of Jolly’s jacket pocket.

Preps for Dubai Heist

March 2007

The meeting in Antwerp had such an untoward end, with Jolly leaving without saying a proper goodbye.

As soon as they left the meeting in September 2006, each of them in their own different direction, Victor fetched his cell phone and dialed Jolly’s number, only to receive an automatic message that the user’s number was disconnected. He angrily slammed it and walked to the flat. He understood his friend’s anger, but it wasn’t clear to him why he had not confided in him before Green came.

Victor decided to give him a few weeks more to calm down before calling him again. Hearing the same automatic message as a couple of months ago he was rather surprised and a bit worried.

He reluctantly went through the contact list, calling all numbers of the girls that Jolly used to hide at or spend with his spare time between jobs. Each and every one of them has denied seeing him within several past months.

He looked at his watch and saw that it was before midday. Without thinking, he packed a bag and left the apartment, then took a taxi to the airport.

He decided to visit the clubs in Italy where they used to be regular guests hoping to find him, but that expedition was a complete failure. Jolly has not been to Italy. The change itself and being under the Italian sun felt fine and improved his mood a bit. He knew he had only one option left, and he traveled to Spain on a direct flight from Milan. There, hot Spaniard girls and cold sangria gave him more than pleasure, but despite the good times and the everlasting sunshine, he went from there with a bitter taste in his mouth because he could not find Jolly there either.

He lost several weeks, all the time knowing that a new job was awaiting him. The advance payment he took from Green forced him to get into the job prep, being aware of how much harder it would be without Jolly.

He returned home in early March 2007 and the first thing that crossed his mind was meeting with Jacqueline.

“Hi, darling! Are you ready?” Victor asked via phone, starting the car.

‘I am.’

“Come on, I’ll pick you up in five minutes. I’m already in the car,” he drove through the streets relatively quickly under the spring sun, stopping right on the sidewalk.

Jacqueline, dressed in a black leather jacket, a knee-length skirt and mesh stockings, came into the car and kissed him on the cheek.

“Hi. This sun is warming up as if spring was coming.”

“It really is,” Victor confirmed.

“I’m ready to go. What did you do about the documents?” she asked.

Victor gave the left blinker and got into the traffic.“Let’s go pick up birth certificates and citizenship certificates now,” he said, glancing at her beauty that still astounded him. “You’ll have a passport in ten days, so be ready to go to the field as soon as you get it.”

“Okay. And when are you coming?”

“As soon as I’m done with the documents and the training for the guys.”

“How many of you are coming?”

“I don’t know exactly yet, but I think I would need three assistants. I will make the final decision when you send me the sketches after the reconnaissance in the shop,” he said, turning right into the parking lot in front of the registry office. He switched off the car and turned to her. “What have you decided on your visa and cover-up for prep for the action? Will you take this scheme of mine for Iraq, the Green’s one for the cruiser ship to India, or whatever else was that you mentioned?”

“Last time I just gave you a hint, now I’ll explain. There’s this guy, a Gastarbeiter, who has been living and working in Dubai for a long time, selling electronic equipment. He’s been courting me for years, and he’s offered to help me find a makeup artist job in several splendid salons there. He even offered me to stay in an empty apartment of his friend’s. He’s totally gone on me, head over heels in love.”

“Great. I have no doubt at all as to why he’s so crazy about you,” Victor said, admiring her beautiful smile. “We’ll do as you say. Then I’ll finish the visa papers just for me and the crew. Come on, call him now to arrange the details. He’ll sure be glad as a little child to hear your voice.”

She opened her purse and pulled out a nice brand new golden D&G Motorola special edition cell phone and typed in a number quickly.

“Hello, Gagi! It’s me, Jacqueline. So how are you? Great? Me too! I decided to get out of here! There is no life here, as we have already discussed! Right now I’m here in front of the building, about to submit documents for the passport. In about ten days, I would send you a completed visa application form that you sent me by email, unless you have, by any chance changed your mind,” Jacqueline said, winking at Victor. “What do you say…you haven’t? Well, great then! Ok, then I’ll send you the visa form as soon as I get my passport! Kiss and hope to see you soon! Bye!”

“You’re a genius, yes you are.”

“He says the apartment is ready, his friend is in America for specialization until the end of the year. He says everything is already waiting for me.”

Victor laughed. “Like I said, a genius.”

“When I get there, I’m looking for an apartment for you and the guys, right?”

“That’s right. Use the flat of that fellow in America and look for contacts from rental agencies. We’ll need an apartment for the new boys and an apartment for me and Gill separately. You already know the target, it’s in the Wafi Center, and we need apartments in Al Rafaa, Burjuman or Jumeirah 1 residential area, because all these settlements are just minutes by car from the Wafi Center.”

She typed all the names in a note on her phone. “Ok, I remembered everything as you said.”

“You’re the best of students, you know everything for a straight-A”.

“Of course, when I had the best teachers,” she said.

Viktor laughed briefly. “Let’s take photos for our passports and then we’ll move on… as soon as we get the documents, you’ll get the money to prepare the groundwork for us.”

About two weeks later, Jacqueline, good-looking and shaped up, waited for a flight to Dubai.

With a valid passport and visa, she entered the land of sun and sand unhindered, settling into an apartment already waiting for her. Wasting no time, as planned, she found and rented apartments, sometimes spending time in them, waiting for the arrival of the rest of the crew.

After a few days, one warm afternoon, she fitted one of her wigs from the collection, fixed her makeup, and stepped out onto the glowing asphalt.

A taxi stopped at once beside her, elegant in a long skirt. She sat in the back seat and uttered in fluent English. “To Wafi Center, please.”

Recruitment of accomplices

Having accompanied Jacqueline to the airport to catch her plane, Victor was left alone with quite a burden on his shoulders. For the first time, he had to do the entire organization of a job without the help of his friend and mentor Jolly.

He felt a slight nervousness as he had to put together a crew, which was always his comrade’s task. Driving toward the downtown, he recalled their conversation on the café balcony related to establishing crews for jobs.

“You know I’m not compelled to show off with these expensive and luxurious things,” Jolly said blowing out the smoke of his cigarette. “This outfit, or even this car, is not my goal, but a resource,” he said, casting a glance at the luxurious car parked just by the patio, which attracted views like a magnet.

“Resource?” Victor looked at him inquiringly, looking at his fine branded Italian suit.

“Yes, for recruitment. To recruit new boys for jobs, I show them what they can have if they choose to work for me. When they see me lavishing money, cars, pussies, they come to me by themselves, both girls and young men, and offer cooperation,” he said before he took a sip of whiskey. “Just remember one thing that they put into my head in the beginning: Always make sure they have a dream before working together.”

“Have a dream? What, with imagination?” Viktor asked.

“Well, those who dream with their eyes open, who have some unfulfilled wishes and goals in life… who dream of something they don’t have. Then connect their dream with our job, they must realize that our job completion will fulfill their dreams too. It’s difficult to motivate a dreamless person. Avoid like the plague those people whose ambition is a beer in a plastic two-liter bottle in front of a local store as the world’s best fun time,” he said, nodding at a nearby store and a bunch of local dawdlers, gulping beer from a plastic bottle.

Victor braked abruptly as the car next to him made a left lane change without blinking its direction. “Where’re you going, shithead! Who gave you a license?!” he exclaimed, interrupted from his memories.

He knew what he had to do, but not in the same way as Jolly did. Fancy cars and modern suits, as well as bragging, were not his style.

Digging through his memory chest box, he recalled an old schoolmate of his, Gill, who had always been considered a good driver with good contacts far and wide including those of the criminal world, which is what he needed for his current job. Going around to several bars, he found him in the same position he recalls him, always a bohemian with his hands raised high at a local country bar, At the Chosa’s.

The smoky air with the taste of cheap beer and cigars was so repulsive that he almost turned back and walked out into the street, but the penetrating familiar voice was stronger.

“Victor! So where the hell are you coming from!” Gill exclaimed, getting up to greet cordially and embrace the old friend. “Well, I haven’t seen you for a hundred years!”

“I see, you’re in the celebration mode! You didn’t get married, did you?”

“Come on, cut the crap! If I were to marry, then I would be crying now and not partying! I took some money off the bookmaker so I said let’s celebrate! Music is ours tonight! Baby!” he yelled at the young bartender and singer, “Come on, sing that one “Where were you when I was nobody’! Woo-hoo!,” he shouted at the first verses of the easy folk rhythm. “And let’s have a beer here for everybody! Let us drink together, me and my brother!”

Round after round, and after a couple of hours, bottles of beer and small glasses of brandy piled up on their table. Victor felt slight drumming in his head, he knew he was overdoing it, but he didn’t care. Upon browsing through memories of old mutual acquaintances and friends, Victor felt it was a moment for action.

What’s my life for, without you darling,

when another love, I don’t want to have…

“Tell me, Gill, how’s the business going? Are you still taxing?“ Victor gave a sign to the bartender to mute the music a little.

“Oh, brother, what’s there to say anyway. All the same shit, just like that clunker of mine parked outside,” Gill said, swigging the last drop out of the bottle. “It starts out, gets going, then stops. Fuck.”

“So, is it possible to get by with it?” Victor asked as he smelled his sweater discretely and realized he would have to wash it three times.

“Getting by?” Gill uttered tipsily. “Hardly, bro. Slumming it? Yep,” he said, taking out a new cigarette, counting the pack of bills already thinning in his shirt pocket, which made him sad. “…I have an idea how to turn things around for the better, but…,” he said, blowing out the smoke toward the ceiling.

“But what? Short of the cabbage, right?”

Gill nodded slowly, deeply. “Yes, bro, short of the bread. This motherfucker crisis, people take fewer and fewer taxi rides. But I have an idea to get four more cars and start up a taxi line, you know, there, from suburbs to suburbs just along the main boulevard, at a very low cost per ride, as a low-price shared service. That’s how I would take the business over from the competition and from the bus lines, I mean most of it, right. But bro, it’s too big an investment for me.”

Tonight, my heart’s hurting, tonight, my soul is aching,

it’s hard when you love, yet stay all alone…

Victor loved very much that song that was quietly emerging from the speakers. Under the influence of alcohol that streamed through his veins, he snatched Gill’s pack and lit himself a cigarette.

“Look, bro. I could help you.”

Gill leans in his chair. “Don’t give me that shit. I’m not gonna ask you to lend me money.”

“No, wait,” he said, taking his arm. “I don’t want to say that at all. I know you’re an honest and honorable man. I’d never do that to you. I know you that much.”

“I know you too, Victor. You’ve always had a heart of gold. That’s why I love you. And I’ve heard and seen that you’ve been well off, so I’m very happy for you.”

“You see, buddy,” Victor said blowing out the smoke, “…things might get better for you too. You are smart, capable and I want to offer you a job that will solve the issue of money and make you enough money for your taxi line.”

Gill looked out of the corner of his eye. “I guess the job is not quite legal by nature.”

Victor smiled. “As I said, you’re a smart man.”

Gill gazed drunkenly at a spot on the floor and raised his head. “Who the fuck cares! All right, brother, I am in for it. Just I’d love to hear what it’s all about first.”

“Good. Let’s finish this alcohol now, so we’ll have coffee tomorrow to discuss the details.”

“Yeah, right. We’re too drunk now for the details! Baby! Repeat the round! Give us everything here so we can make a toast!'’

Training

After a slept-over morning and a hangover headache, Victor and Gill discussed business over an afternoon cup of coffee. Victor did not go into subtleties because he knew from experience it was not good for crew members to know more than they ought to. And what he did tell, was sufficient for consent. Without wasting time, they dug into the business.

Gill promised to find two more reliable men to do the job with them. “Brother, I know two guys who did jobs in Liechtenstein and France.”

Victor decided to train the new crew well before starting off to Dubai. After a few days, upon meeting the two new guys and giving the green light to join them, he visited a local costume jewelry store. He walked into the shop nonchalantly, smiling charmingly at a pretty girl at the counter.

“Hello, good-looking. We talked on the phone yesterday about possible cooperation. I’m here for а wholesale purchase.”

“Ah, yes. Of course! Please, come to the showroom, a colleague will take you over.”

“Very kind of you,” he said, setting out deeper into the shop where he was greeted by an older but still attractive sales agent.

“Hello and welcome. You are Sasha?” she asked, extending her hand with red polished nails.

“Yes.”

“Let me introduce you to our collection. Our jewelry is handmade, unique, beautiful, and, above all, distinctive. Our goal is to offer you just that, beautiful and always distinctive stuff. As you can see, genuine leather and large pendants dominate these necklaces of pure lines for the upcoming season. This jewelry is definitely going to fit in with each of your sales fashion combinations,” she said all in one breath, pointing to a range of costume jewelry. “The primary benefit for a recipient of our franchise is joining a jewelry sales business already worked-out in a successful business system.”

Victor laughed slightly.

“I wouldn’t like to interrupt you or to sound impolite, but now I would like just to pick up the goods if that’s possible. I’m a little short of time right now, and as for the sales details, I would send my saleswomen here for training in a day or two, if that’s not a problem.”

“Oh, I’m taken aback a little,” she said, visibly confused that she had made a sale so quickly. “I’m glad you’re willing for cooperation.”

“More than willing,” he confirmed with a chuckle.

“No problem, sir. We’ll be pleased to introduce our sales methods and jewelry details to your saleswomen.”

“Great. Then I would just pick up the goods now if that’s ok.”

“Yes of course. We will go to the back of the store where the warehouse is.”

Victor followed her, and a few minutes later he loaded the goods packed into boxes in a van he had bought the other day. Before leaving, he shook hands once again with the agent and got into the van, driving to the other end of town.

He turned left into the spacious yard of a local furniture factory and parked at the side entrance of a large warehouse. Walking out, he lit a cigarette. In a way, he cursed Gill and the tavern because he had reinstated the smoking habit.

Smoking a cigarette, he addressed the first employee he had met.

“Hi. Is Misho here?”

“Misho, the boss?”

“Yes, I’m looking for him. How many Misho guys do you have here?” Victor laughed.

“Oh man, don’t even ask, there are three of them. I’ll call him now.”

“Thanks.” Victor continued to smoke and was almost done when the one he was looking for showed up.

“Sasha, right?”

“I’m the one. Nice to meet you,” he said, extending his hand. “Did you get those shelves ready which I ordered? Thirty shelves with a glass lid.”

“Yes, they’re ready. I forgot to ask for the address, with such a large order we offer you free shipping.”

“No, no need, the van is already here. I’ll drive them away.”

“As you wish,” Misho said. “Is it a problem for you to park the van to the loading ramp? It’ll be easier for the guys.”

“Definitely not a problem!” Victor exclaimed and got into the van and parked it as he had been told.

He saw that the guys from the factory were well trained, so after less than half an hour of work, the van was packed with dismantled shelves and windows, stacked side by side.

He said goodbye to the guys, leaving them a good tip, and drove out of the factory yard.

“To make a delivery,” he laughed in the van with himself. “If they drove the shelves to the isolated cottage in the highlands, that would only bring suspicion and cops to my back.”

He was driving out of town to the cottage he was already thinking about. Far from the main road, it was about a mile up the hill via a macadam road far from the first signs of civilization. Jolly bought that cottage after the job in Louvre and it served its purpose perfectly as a sort of a training center and a meeting place.

He turned at the intersection off the main road and parked just before turning onto the macadam road. He looked at his watch and saw that he had arrived five minutes early. Punctual like a clock, Gill’s old Audi with a taxi sign on the roof appeared in the rearview mirror. He stopped next to Victor’s van and Gill and a muscular tall guy came out of it. Victor also went out of his van and tossed a cigarette on the road, stepping on it furiously.

“Where’s the third one? The one we talked to yesterday?” Viktor asked without saying hello.

“He can’t come tonight, he says. He’s prevented, has some obligations at the club, some anniversary,” Gill began to explain, apologizing.

“What fucking obligation on a training day,” he said in a low, threatening voice. “Call him. Right now.”

Gill took out his phone and dialed the number and at the first ring, he handed the phone to Victor.

“Hello. It’s Victor. Listen, pal. If you want us to work together, in half an hour I want you to pop up here, is it clear?”

‘Hey! Sorry, but I forgot tonight was the club’s meeting and anniversary. I can’t miss the celebration because…’

“I’m not interested in any excuses - go to the party after we finish the meeting here,” he interrupted firmly. “You choose what’s more important to you. A job or some fucking celebration. Here’s Gill, if you want to come right now, Gill will pick you up.”

Without waiting for an answer, he handed the phone to Gill and waved the other boy into the van.

“You see about him, we’re going to prepare the shelves.”

“What if he won’t come?” Gill asked.

“Then bloody fuck him off, he’s out of the crew. I don’t need any fucking amateurs. Let’s go!” Victor said to the other guy and jumped into the van himself, firing the engine on the first try.

Driving away down the macadam road, he saw Gill in the rearview mirror waving his hands, arguing fiercely on the phone.

“I see, no messin’ around,” the youngster said as they left.

Victor glanced at the guy beside him. “No,” he said, gearing up, causing the van to shake even more. “We don’t need unteachable and undisciplined men. That kind makes it easy to fall.”

Ten minutes of shuddering drive up the hill and the van approached a small water spring, where it turned left again, and after a minute’s drive in front of them, there arouse a view of a lonely estate, well separated from the rest of the small nearby village.

Victor stopped the van at the makeshift garage that Jolly had always used to store equipment and train new associates before robberies. He did everything the way that his missing friend would also do.

“I’m going to unlock the garage, and you start unloading everything from the van bit by bit.”

They first unloaded all the jewelry boxes before reaching out to the shelves.

“You start on the left and I’ll be on the right side of the garage. We first fold the shelves and then put the glass lid on top. So we’re making a copy of the jewelry store, as you saw in the pictures, okay?”

“Deal,” said the tall guy in a deep voice.

“Great. Let’s dig into it then.”

Without a word, they rushed to work. In the wide arc around the cottage, one could just hear the chirping of birds and the sound of shelves being stacked. Although the job didn’t seem difficult, the monotonous stacking took its toll, and the first signs of sweat become visible on their t-shirts.  

“What about the excess of these display glass covers?” the guy asked, looking toward the rest thereof in the van.

“We’re going to unload them here in the corner of the garage. We’ll need them later,” Victor replied and fetched the first box of jewelry. “Here, take this box and start stowing the jewelry on your side. Just toss a few pieces into each shelf and put the glass lid back in place.”

The tall guy just nodded and in a blink of an eye, a makeshift exhibit stand with 15 shelves full of jewelry on each side was in place. Just when they finished and admired the scene briefly, they heard Gill’s Audi roaring on arrival.

Victor briefly exited the garage and saw Gill and the guy he discussed with earlier coming out of the car. He just nodded and showed them the way to the garage.

He stood in front of the new crew, holding a black bag in his hand.

“Okay, we’re all here. It’s time to get down to real work. In this bag I’m keeping, there are coveralls, balaclavas, gloves, and glasses. Get dressed so that we can start,” he said, tossing his bag on the floor.

They approached the bag cautiously, as if there were a time-bomb in it, and slowly started to pull out and put on each of their sets that held it.

“Not bad, work uniforms, serious business… As uncle Dushko would say, ‘One can find nothing more enjoyable than a little work to do, in a fine company, with a relaxed crew, and with a decent salary','’ Gill said, pulling on his mask hood over his head, arousing laughter with the others.

Although he was laughing, Victor noticed reluctance of the young man who had come with Gill, who was listlessly flipping his coveralls, as if he were looking for something.

“What is it, Bolle? That color might not be fashionable?” Viktor asked.

“I don’t know. I mean, is there a need for this… we’re in the garage here, so who’s gonna see us?”

“Listen,” Victor began explaining calmly. “I know you’ve done this before, Bolle. I respect that you have experience and that this may seem stupid to you. But I need you healthy!” Victor raised voice firmly. “Here, now and in the job in the field itself! Remember, safety always comes first! Your hand slides on the broken glass for a moment, you leave your DNA as evidence on the spot! Or you smash the glass on the counter, it breaks into a million pieces and in a moment it can blow a piece of glass into your eye! The goal here, then, is practice and total protection! Better to train now and know what to do at work than to mess something up, and after all, we end up in prison where the Arabs will fuck our asses up! Come on, put it on so we can finish this and we’ll all have a drink and you may go back to your celebration.”

Bolle nodded seriously, realizing the point, and then dressed in the blink of an eye.

A minute later, everyone was fully dressed and ready for the drill.

“Let’s go now! One by one! So, you go inside, pull the hammer out of your bag, smash the glass, grab jewelry, stuff it in your bag, then onto the next shelf! Then so till the end of the wall!” Viktor shouted energetically but in a subdued tone.

They understood Victor’s instructions perfectly and set off to it.

Bolle, the guy who came last, was significantly faster than the tall guy. All they could hear behind them was the smashing of the glass ringing in their ears. Victor seemed pleased with the job done.

“The rebellious ones may screw over in the beginning, but very often they end up being the best ones!” Victor said to Gill in an encouraging tone. “Come on, Gill! It’s your turn!”

He took the stopwatch in his hand and pressed the button as soon as Gill thrust into like a hurricane and started forcefully hitting the shelves. But, as soon as in the second half, he began to lose his breath, breaking glass like a bull in a china shop. In a hurry, he dropped one of the necklaces when he tried to put it in his bag and reached out to retrieve it.

“Where’re you up to?!” Victor exclaimed. “No hesitating, no turning back! Just grab the loot and move on! What you put, you put! What dropped, leave it there! Don’t pay attention if you pick up jewelry or glass, just smash it and grab it on and on!”

Gill nodded and continued at the same fierce pace, finishing the circle.

Victor stopped the stopwatch and looked at the time.

“Not bad… though it can be better!” he said, staring at the panting Gill. “What is it, brother? It’s not easy to be a criminal, huh?”

“Fuck, my lungs went to hell and back,” he said bent, breathing heavily, leaning on his knees.

“Fuck it, Gill, the tavern has its due to collect… and this is some serious drill,” Viktor said teasingly, and everyone had a sweet laugh, along with Gill. “All right, guys. A short break, then we’re going to clean this glass and put everything back in place, then do it one more time!” Victor said, taking the broom along with Bole, as Gill and the tall guy went to set up new glass shelves.

* * *

After the effective training, Victor felt calmer because he knew the crew was ready. As they had previously arranged to meet in seven days, Gill was already waiting for him with coffee on a cafe balcony on a sunny morning. Victor took out three cell phones and three large envelopes.

“Here are three envelopes, each with an airline ticket and a visa in a fake passport. The first part of the money, too. Yours is inside, too.”

“Ok, I’ll pass them on.”

“Okay,” Victor nodded. “Brother, now it’s time to tell you that we’ll stay long time in the Middle East until we can set up the transfer of loot to Europe. We may be coming back with an oceangoing vessel, or we may have to pass through dangerous desert landscapes and war zones. Fuck, I don’t know exactly yet. Basically, what I mean is, if you have any qualms about the work and all of this, now it’s time to tell me,” he said, gazing him in the eyes. “You’d better tell me honestly right now before we get there.”

Gill looked back at him with a long gaze, then put out his cigarette in the ashtray. “Brother, what could possibly scare us, who passed through those horrors of war? The only good thing I got out of all that hell is that we survived and that today nothing is or seems scary enough anymore,” he finished, pulling out his new cigarette with a slight smile. “Don’t worry about me, but what are we going to do there? Where will we be located?”

“Okay,” Victor nodded in satisfaction. “Just take it easy,” he said, using his favorite phrase. “We never share information about routes of movement before and after an action. If one does not know certain information, then one cannot misuse it. It doesn’t mean that I don’t trust you, but that’s how a friend and mentor taught me the trade a long time ago.”

“Don’t worry, I’m just asking out of curiosity, anyway,” he said, blowing out the smoke.

“If an associate made a fuss about this, he would be expelled from the crew straight away. This kind of business must be carried out with absolute loyalty and trust.”

“I fully agree.”

Victor smiled, satisfied with Gill’s dedication and eager desire to work. “No problem, bro. Well now, tell the guys we’re meeting at the airport on Saturday, March 24 at six in the morning. As we agreed in the cottage, we don’t know each other at the airport, we all travel separately. The address for a taxi is in each one’s passport. The phone we will call as soon as we get into a cab is already stored in the outgoing calls. Jacqueline will wait for us outside the building to take us into the apartment. Give it to them, and then we’ll all see each other at the airport.”

“Ok, brother.”

“Now give me a cigarette. My pack stayed at home.”

Gill laughed and pulled one out and lit it to him, saying to him: “Brother, if you continue this way with tobacco, your lungs will go off like mine while hitting the shelves.”

They both laughed loudly.

Saturday came quickly and Victor sat at the airport and flipped through a newspaper while waiting for the flight to Dubai. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed the others in the waiting room at the departure terminal, each occupying himself with something.

Although distant from one another, they communicated with their eyes, without a single spoken word. He knew everyone was following his moves, as agreed.

A pleasant female voice from the announcement awakened his memories.

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines makes the last call to its respected passengers for a flight to Amsterdam’

He heard the same call at the same airport in early February 2005.

Orderer – Schiphol Airport Robbery – $ 118 Million

February 2005

On the first day of February 2005, after the peak holiday season and a snowy white Christmas, he boarded a flight to Amsterdam. For the holidays, everyone on the crew visited their homes, wanting to spend pleasant moments with their loved ones as far away as possible from the work and hardships it brought about. Relaxed and rested, with no stress, he traveled with thousands of people at European airports.

Jolly was already in the hotel lobby where they agreed to meet, loaded for bear. He checked in quickly and left his bag in the hotel room and hurried back to Jolly, who was waiting for him at the hotel bar.

“Where are we going?” Victor asked, watching him chugging his whiskey.

“Green called a meeting,” Jolly said, leaving a bill under the glass. “He probably collected the payment from our past job in the Louvre or has some new work for us. Or maybe both… let’s go, I already took a car from a rent-a-car agency.”

The metallic gray Peugeot was the most unobtrusive car Jolly could choose. His profligacy during breaks between jobs was legendary, but a sense of caution while doing business was something Victor greatly admired.

Just ten minutes later, they drove through the industrial part of town, where Jolly left the car between two large warehouses.

“Upstairs in an office, he’s waiting for us,” he said getting out of the car.

“Well, he couldn’t find a safer place,” Victor said, closing the door.

They entered a small door just next to the closed high storage door and went up the stairs to the first floor where they noticed a burning light behind one door. In a very ordinary office, they found Green sitting at a desk like a clerk, but what made him different from a common clerk was many packs of dollar bills, stacked in six large tall bundles.

“Oh, boss! How’s the business going? I can see from the evidence it’s progressing well,” Jolly exclaimed laughing at the others.

Green laughed too as they shook hands.

“Thank God … not too bad,” he said, looking attentively at Victor. “Respect, Victor,” he said, shaking his hand. “It’s nice to finally meet you.”

“Same here, Sir.”

“Please, call me Green. I see Jolly and you are a good team, and a good combination shouldn’t be messed with. Congratulations on a well-done job in Paris. Jolly told me you’re a keen fellow, rather ingenious! Ideal for our type of business.”

“Thank you very much, Green,” he said briefly, feeling proud.

“Sit down, boys,” Green said, sitting behind the desk. “What you see is a payoff for the last job. Each one of you two gets one of these bundles. I deliberately set it this way on the table for you to see two things. First, to see how profitable this business is, and second, that we are not alone in this combination. Other piles will be committed to those who together with us make this crew successful.”

Victor couldn’t take his eyes off so many stacked banknotes.

“Chief, excuse me, but may I take a photo of the money? I’ve never seen so much money in one place in my life,” he said, causing everyone’s laughter.

“Well, you may,” Green said, surprised. “But don’t ever show anyone that photo. Modesty is our greatest safety. With swagger, we wouldn’t get far in this business.”

“No way, chief. It’s just for my own pleasure,” he said, handing the camera to Jolly, who shot a few shots. “Do you want a photo, too?” Viktor asked in ecstasy.

“Oh, brother, what would I need the picture for. That’s what I’m going to earn, so I’ll watch it live,” Jolly said, winking.

“What? So you’ll be a millionaire?”

“Not just a millionaire, I’ll be a billionaire!”

“Aren’t you a little unreal, dude? Who’s going to knock off that many jewelry stores,” Victor said, laughing.

“You know what they say, fly high, fall far. If I aim for billions, then I’m going to fall into millions… whatever happens, I can’t fail,” Jolly said, infecting them all with his loud charismatic laugh.

“Nice listening to you, millionaires, but let’s get to work now,” Green interrupted. “So the payoff is on the table. You can take the money now or you can take the other option that I’m offering now. As the sums we are dealing with are getting larger, we have organized a method of legal disbursements to your bank accounts in installments. So instead of a hundred thousand dollars, you would get 20 installments of 5 thousand.”

“Why so?” Jolly asked, frowning.

“Because it’s not easy to draw large sums of cash. Too many questions are asked in banks for transactions exceeding 10 thousand, which does not suit us at all, especially the question of the origin of money. This service is free of charge minus the bank transfer cost, which is approximately about thirty dollars per transaction. How about that option?”

“Well, I have to admit it sounds interesting to me,” Victor said first. “So… it’s like to be employed by a company and get paid, right?”

“Exactly,” Green confirmed. “In fact, there are also employment contracts to sign, everything legal, salaries paid every month. Lawyers will handle it easily. I pay the amount to an offshore company account, which is then transferred to the customer accounts on a scheduled basis.”

“Without me,” Jolly said resolutely. “I’ll still stick with the cash variant.”

“Whatever you want,” Green said, shrugging his shoulders.

“I’m interested,” Victor admitted. “I could also save for my retirement this way, my pension balance is zero.”

“No problem, Victor. You’ll send me a foreign currency account number, and I will settle everything else with a lawyer and an accountant. Okay, let’s talk about the business now. I’ve planned to change teams for each job, however, you delighted me with the way you handled the job at Louvre, and I decided to offer the following combination to you first.”

Jolly glanced at Victor. “We are ready.”

Victor nodded. “What’s next?”

Green dialed a number on the phone and pressed the speakerphone button.

“Hello? It’s me,” Green said after the second bell.

‘Hi. Write down the following details. Schiphol Airport, KLM.’

Green began to write quickly in the appointment book.

“OK. When?”

‘You’ll have to find it out for yourself. I can’t run the risk of inquiring personally about the details.’

“How do I find out on my own?”

‘For starters, call the number I gave you yesterday. Ask the seller where the goods are currently located. If they tell you that they are in Brinx or Malca or it is KLM in your case, tell him as follows, your customers will only engage if they confirm that the goods are where the seller says they are. Tell him to call the security transport company and order their manager to call you, i.e. the buyer, and to have the same manager confirm that the goods are in their hands. Declare to the seller right away that you are not interested in security or the number of goods. So, your goal is to have the security house manager to verify that the seller actually has ownership of the diamonds and that they were registered under the seller’s company name. And emphasize to the seller that the buyer, that is, you, will call the security transport company.’

“Wait for me to write it down. Go on.”

‘OK. When your seller agrees, ask him for the manager’s name and phone number at the security company. Once he gave it to you, double-check again on the internet if he has given you the right number. Then, call the headquarters of that same security company and ask for that manager’s first and last name. If everything matches, then call the direct number of that manager and check it. Now, if the seller orders the security company, i.e., in this case, KLM to provide this information to a specific person, they will respect that. And if the seller doesn’t want to, then move away from the whole operation as fast as you can. Without regrets.’

There was silence for a few moments as Green wrote it down with a ballpoint pen.

“Ok, go on.”

‘Once you confirm that the product is in the safe of that security firm, you can show the financial credentials. Tell them you will do it through a bank clerk.’

“What if they ask for a financial instrument or to block my funds?”

‘Abandon everything and leave.’

“Wait a minute, what do you mean? How then will I…”

‘Tell him there will be no purchase deal then if he insists,’ the voice said, interrupting him. ‘Explain to him that what you can do at this point is just show him the ability to pay. If he agrees and you come to an agreement, then tell the seller that you’ll bring your gemologist to speak with his gemologist or directly with him, the seller, so that he can ask questions to help determine if the goods are in such shape as presented. If he refuses, it is a sign that they are not sellers, because, to get a price, the seller must have had someone sort and evaluate the goods. The real seller knows what’s in the package. So, now, if they agree to an assessment meeting, they will give you a date of arrival or a meeting appointment in Antwerp. That’s the date you are looking for, because you will know this is the date when KLM will transfer goods from Amsterdam to Antwerp, after arriving on their flight from Ft. Worth Texas. Remember, these valuables are to be loaded only at the end when all the luggage and passengers are already on the plane.’

“What if they have any other objections?”

‘Just tell them that you need a guarantee and that your gemologist has a set of questions to ask to determine if the goods are worth it at all and whether it is worth spending tens of thousands of dollars on transportation expenses on the day of the sale and purchase. It’s better to pay a gemologist a fee to get a preliminary estimate, lest you spend thousands of dollars to find out that the goods are common crap. If you follow these two basic steps you will eliminate 99% of nominated fraudulent offers. Do everything as I explained to you. For the rest, we have already agreed. I must go, already late for a Board meeting.’

“I know. All right. I’ll talk to you soon,” he said and ended the call by pressing a key. “You’ve heard everything. You need to prepare for a raid at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. The target is to seize goods that will be transported by KLM security consignment to Antwerp.” Jolly nodded and looked at Victor, who also nodded.

“I’ll let you know about the exact date and time when the shipment is to arrive as soon as I make all the inquiries.”

“All right, Green. We’ll work out a plan by then,” Jolly said, getting up from his chair. “Do you have any…”

“Bag?” Green said with a smile. “Come on, fortunately, you are better prepped when you are to loot”.  

Jolly laughed watching Green pull out a small black bag.

“I don’t need a bag, but I’ll take a third in cash this time, and if I can get the rest through the account, as you mentioned” Victor added.

“Okay, done,” Green confirmed.

“So you still like cash, huh?” Jolly asked Viktor in a teasing tone.

“Fuck, it smells so good. How can I resist?” Victor concluded

Everyone laughed eagerly and said goodbye.

On the way to the car, Jolly pulled out a cigarette and lit it with a Zippo lighter. He casually tossed his bag in the backseat and started the car on the first.

“So brother, do you have any idea how to get into the airport?” Victor asked him pensively.

“Fuck me if I know,” Jolly replied with a cigarette between his teeth.

“Yes, fuck!” Victor exclaimed, tapping his forehead.

“What?”

“I think I know who can help us get in,” Victor said with a puzzling smile, so pleased that he rubbed his hands.

“The strongest computer, my brother, can’t compare to your brains,” he said, stepping on the gas pedal as soon as the tires reached the superhighway bypass.

Recruitment of helpers

A wonderful and sunny morning has dawned in the lowlands of the Netherlands. At the small settlement of Hoofddorp near Schiphol Airport, a KLM van stopped in front of the local Gorthuis bakery. A thin young man of average build and freshly shaved beard locked the van and went to buy fresh pastries and coffee, just like every other day. He waited patiently for his turn, greeted heartily the girl he had been looking at for the past year, and took his pastries after paying the bill. Just as he was about to sip his first sip of hot coffee, he heard a familiar voice behind his back.

“Emir! Is that you?!”

He turned, with his face shining of joy, to see an old friend from high school days.

“Victor! What the fuck… you are here?” he laughed warmly, while they were hugging each other. “So what is bringing you to this dump?”

“Business, buddy. Jolly and I have some business nearby, so I recalled you were here… And so, by chance, I found you here!”

Emir had a sweet laugh. “What business, buddy?”

“Well, I’ll tell you all, buddy, but with a cold beer. Meet me tonight, we need to catch up as friends do!”

“Why not! I finish work at six.”

“Is there a tavern somewhere here that one can get boozed freely?”

“There’s a bar, buddy, a Belgian pub, right down the street on the left side.”

“Aw, great! We’ll be there after six so stop by!”

“One hundred percent buddy! I have to go now, I’m in a hurry! Job, fuck!”

“It’s all clear to me,” he laughed, tapping him on the shoulder. “I’ll see you tonight!”

Victor was looking at his KLM uniform and the van, and although he was smiling, a million thoughts streamed in his head at a time.

“Hit the road, jack, and don’t you come back no more…,” he crooned to himself cheerfully.

They spent most of the day at the indoor pool of a local hotel drinking light local beer, waiting for six o’clock in the evening.

Before they left, they refreshed themselves with food, knowing that the night would stretch long with alcohol. Slightly before six o’clock, they settled into a corner of a well-crafted pub, starting with a local beer that tasted great on the steaks they had previously had for dinner. Less than half an hour later, Emir showed up at the door, still wearing his KLM work uniform. He greeted Jolly in the same cordial manner as Victor that morning, took a chair, and joined them at the table.

Beer after beer, round on round, and the evening hours were passing by in quite a relaxed mood. 

At Emir’s idea, they started trying more than forty types of beer.

“Victor, you have to try this,” Emir said in a tipsy voice. “Just this one more.”

“How come, heck, one more! Well, it’s the tenth different kind of beer in a row. Who’s gonna drive us home, heck?”

“We’ll take a cab, who gives a fuck. Come on, you and I for the old days, when Jolly won’t join us in this little degustation adventure.”

“It’s ok, boys. This local beer suits me well, and I’m not too much of an experimenter,” Jolly said with a laugh.

“Oh, dude, forget about the beer, let me ask you, how’s the business going?” Victor asked, and went silent with the arrival of a waiter who brought them another round.

“Ah, heck, how. It’s not bad, I can’t complain, but it’s not a fairy tale either,” he muttered, taking a big sip of fresh cold beer.

Victor and Jolly exchanged a glance.

“Well, I saw it on you at the bakery this morning. You weren’t exactly optimistic.”

“Yes, Viktor told me he saw you today and I just didn’t believe him. It’s not Emir that I know, the one who’s always been the soul of every party, the rolling stone, the best DJ in the town… and beyond,” Jolly continued.

“Well! Those were the best parties, the ones you organized in high school, fuck!” Victor exclaimed. “All the chicks had been going wild to your mixes, especially those variations with movie inserts! And that rap hit that you made together, Evan, Zlatko, and you.”

“That’s it!” Jolly yelled. “Fuck, what nice and carefree times.”

“Fuck,” Emir sighed deeply, taking another sip of beer.

“So do you still play music? Do you record anything?” Viktor asked, still laughing.

“How could I… I’m busy all the time, home to work, and work to home. Sometimes a rhythm comes to my mind in the middle of a shift, but I can’t do anything, and by the time I get home I’m tired, I can’t even keep my eyelids open, let alone mess with the mix. Not only that, but the equipment is also expensive today, buddy, not to mention studio recording! That shit’s today tens of thousands of Euros.”

“Fuck, Emir,” Victor said indignantly. “Come on, say it, what would you do with your life if you had the money you mentioned? What would you do if that money weren’t a problem?”

“What do you mean, if the money weren’t a problem?” Emir asked confused.

“Well, imagine now that you have that money, to rent a studio, to buy, say, that recording equipment and to do that music of yours. In short…,” he paused and looked him in the eye,” … to finally, fulfill your dream.”

Emir fidgeted uneasily in his chair.

“Well, to tell you the truth, I didn’t really think about it. Money has always been a problem, Victor. Fuck, of course, I would be doing my music… and playing it in clubs. I would also help young DJs record their material.”

“That would be some life, not this one, brother. Think of yourself in ten years. You go to the same bakery, you order the same bun, the same coffee, you go to work you obviously hate. Then comes the twentieth year, then the thirtieth, the retirement…”

“God forbid you to get sick…” Jolly added.

“Oh yes, God forbid being ill. How would you feel if thirty years from now, we’re here again and you’re still sitting here drinking beer in that uniform?”

“How would I feel?” he looked at him with sad eyes. “I would feel like a frustrated dick, that’s how I would feel.”

“But look, Emir,” Victor said as he leaned forward towards him. “It’s not all so bad,” he put his hand on his shoulder. “Those years are not lost, I mean, not yet. Here we are. You and me and Jolly. Nothing is lost yet, you still have time to get to do it the way you want it to. And Jolly and I can help you earn that money and throw away that fucking uniform once and for all.”

Emir lifted his head and Victor saw his pupils spread, feeling like a lion about to grab his prey.

“How’s that?” Emir asked.

Jolly smiled imperceptibly and motioned to the waiter to repeat the round. They waited for the waiter to serve them before Victor moved on.

“We need your help, Emir.”

“Yes, you should help us get into the Schiphol airport, more precisely the transport terminal,” Jolly said leaning forward.

“KLM Equipment Services BV,” Victor said slowly. “Your workplace.”

“And what would you do there?” Emir asked nervously.

“Well, we should come in, locate and snatch one van that is of interest to us. We would use toy guns as actually we’ll enter unnoticed and no one will get hurt. And most importantly, no one will be able to connect us with you,” Jolly said, looking him seriously in the eye.

“Wait a minute,” he laughed nervously. “Did I understand you well, guys? You would like to enter the part of the airport where security is at the highest level, aimed against looters, terrorists, a terminal with limited access, even among us employees?!”

“Yes, you understood well,” Jolly confirmed. “That’s exactly what’s going to happen. Robbery at the airport terminal.”

“Are you crazy or something?” Emir asked in a muffled voice. “Well, just to inform you that nobody can bring in even a fucking snack into Schiphol.”

“Emir, we’re not asking you to rob,” Victor added calmly. “We are curious to learn where their vehicles are exactly. Does KLM Security provide security to shipments or do they outsource a contractor to provide security for shipments?”

“You can’t do that. By no means! The vans from KLM have a fuel stoppage system that allows KLM to block the fuel supply to the engine. Each vehicle has the so-called fuel separator, a remote-controlled safety device activated from the control panel in the event of a robbery and theft of a van or truck.”

“We’ll make sure they aren’t activated,” Jolly said in a relaxed tone.

“How? No, no…it can’t be done. The cops will come straight to me, they will screw me over at once,” he said, looking around fearfully to make sure no one had not by any chance heard them, but the tables around them were empty. “And here is another obstacle to your plan. The cops will know right away that you had inside help because of the method the area is secured. The only people allowed to access that part of the terminal are employees who have a particular entry ID, while registration plates of cars, vans, and trucks having access are logged and kept in the entry and exit records. Meanwhile, guards inspect each vehicle in front of the ramp. The same goes for exits, double-checking.”

Jolly sighed, “I’m telling you again, we’ll make sure they don’t come to you. In fact, there is no sign or evidence of a connection between you and us. In the end, they won’t even know who we are. All you have to do, Emir, is to make a small diversion in your shift, set up a small fire that will divert all the guards’ attention to the opposite side…”

“What fire?” Emir exclaimed, interrupting him in the middle of the sentence. “You’re crazy! No fuckin’ chance!”

“Okay, calm down,” Jolly leaned back in his chair, taking a sip of his beer. “Can you at least borrow us your jacket and uniform, as well as the official ID card for about half an hour for us to take the molds so that we can make good copies to enter? And give us some more detailed information?”

Emir looked into his eyes and felt a slight relief for a moment, but the discomfort in his stomach quickly returned.

“No… I cannot. Sorry, bro. They’ll catch me, and then I’m fucked over and…”

“You can’t or you won’t?” Jolly interrupted him.

“I can’t,” Emir said, raising his head and looking at Victor. “Sorry, Victor, I’m here for whatever else you may need, but I’m not in for this. Fuck,” he said and drank his beer in one gulp.

The silence over their desk could not be wiped away, despite the music from the speakers. The minute lasted like a whole hour.

“A man goes out into the street and takes a dog for a walk on a leash,” Jolly began, breaking the awkward silence. “He meets another man. They greet each other and start talking, and the dog, out of boredom, sits down to his master’s leg and suddenly starts to moan, first a whimper, then a long groan. The man he met couldn’t help but ask his friend, ‘Why is your dog moaning?’ And this one told him it was because he had sat on a nail. He looks at him, confused why he doesn’t do something about it as the owner and asks him, ‘So why doesn’t the dog move?’ And the buddy answered him cold-bloodedly, ‘I guess he isn’t hurting enough’,” Jolly ended and pushed his glass away. “Let’s go, Victor, we will find someone else to help us. Emir, it was nice to see you.”

Jolly got up and Viktor was right behind him, confused and dissatisfied. He didn’t want it to end like this, abruptly and unplanned. At the bar, the waiter brought the bill and Jolly paid out of a pack of bills, looking at him.

“Brother, hasn’t this been overhasty?” Victor asked excitedly, taking him by the forearm and leaning closer. “Why are you dashing cold water on it like that? Maybe he needs some time to think it over… and what’s this story of the fucking fire? The plan was not like that at all!”

“Please, go back to him, say a nice goodbye and leave him your number,” Jolly said, putting money in his pocket. “I’ll keep playing the offended innocence,” he sneered. “Tomorrow when he calls us, we will move on to the next step.”

“Wait, how do you know he’ll call?”

Jolly smiled enigmatically. “You give it to him, and I’ll wait outside for you. My desire for a cigarette’s killing me.”

Victor took out his pen and quickly scribbled his number on the bill and took it to Emir, saying goodbye shaking hands quickly and then hurried up to join Jolly in the fresh evening air.

“No such thing as thinking over,” Jolly started explaining. “Either they set their mind on doing it or they don’t. After all, as long as they think too much, then the stupid, fearful reason takes over and moves them toward the negative, against the false security of the comfort zone. And that crap about the fire was on purpose. That serves to intimidate so that when they hear what we really want, they relax and do what we want. You never start negotiating from what you really want, memorize that … you start with an impossible demand and then you move it down to what we really want.”

Victor nodded taciturnly.

“What about that story of the years to come? You fucked him up, you did,” Jolly recognized. “You threw me as well into thinking, not just him. On your life, where did that come from?”

“An ex-girlfriend of mine got me some meditations to listen to when I treated PTSD after the war, some American guru shit. I mean, it is crap, but this part obviously works,” he said with a smile on his lips.

“Obviously it does,” Jolly said with a smile.

They walked without a hurry along empty streets, smoking.

“How do you know? That he will call?” Victor asked again.

“I don’t know!” Jolly said, blowing out the smoke. “He may call, he may not, though I believe he will. And finally, if he doesn’t call, fuck him. We will enter on the other side, drill the fence in the loudest place and enter. Don’t worry, relax.”

“All right,” he said with a shrug. “And where are we going now?”

“Now we’re going to eat, drink, smoke the best ganja, and then screw some hot girls and at last smoke the best ganja again,” Jolly exclaimed. “Then, stoned like that, we’re going to screw again! To roll it until dawn! Let’s go first to this waterfront club, then right next to it we go to whores in windows lined up in small apartments on the water, we’re going to enjoy in presidential suites with Jacuzzi and king-size beds!’

“These Dutch motherfuckers have brought hedonism to perfection! And you fit right in there,” Victor laughed.

“Brother, you never know in the way of life I live whether or not I’ll be stuck in the hoosegow for twenty years as of tomorrow. I live every night as if it were the last one, I will not miss a thing! Let’s go!” Jolly yelled, running into the night.

Victor laughed from the bottom of his heart, feeling for a moment as joyous as he used to be when they were children.

The morning sun came up, brighter than usual. Jolly opened his sticky eyes and the first thing he noticed was the attractiveness of a woman’s ass, covered in a transparent sexy dress. Even though hangover drummed in his mind, he perfectly remembered every detail of a lewd night with a queen of the streets lying next to him. Slowly he got up and completed the bathroom chore, then he woke up his lady of pleasure, telling her to get ready.

“I’m taking you to have breakfast. Fancy up,” he said, pulling out his cigarette. He relaxed to the sound of the shower rustling, happy for a brief moment.

He went out with the lady hand in hand and stopped at the door of Victor’s apartment.

“Good morning, the man of the house,” he shouted, banging on the door. “Are you alive, eh? Come on, quit fucking, we should go for breakfast!”

Victor opened the door, his hair tousled and his eyes still dreamy.

“Why are you yelling? It’s not even half-past six. Why did you go potty this early, as if we had to go to work!”

“Worked, like hell! And brother, we went hungry too! We’ve worked all night long as real champions without a single bite! This girl of mine has swallowed a bit, to say the truth, but I had nothing, starving to death since round two. Come on, bring your lady and let’s go for breakfast.”

He waited for them in the parking lot, smoking a cigarette that didn’t even burn until the end, when Viktor and his female came out. All four of them jumped into the car and Jolly turned up the music to the max volume, racing through the morning traffic.

“Why turn up so much? Do you want the cops to chase us?”

“They can blow it. What, we’re just enjoying music,” Jolly said, opening the window for the smoke to come out.

“And where are we going?”

“Brother, let’s go to the best almond waffles place in the whole world.”

Victor laughed, shaking his head. “Are we going to Gorthius again?”

“Fuck, I told you we were going to work,” Jolly said, winking.

“What can we do there? Do you want me to start persuading Emir again when he comes for breakfast?”

“No way. We’re not going to bother him at all, we’re just going to show him what he’s missing. As he bashes boxes into the van, we bash pussies on the ass,” he replied laughing with all his heart.

That morning, as usual, Emir left the van in front of the bakery, but this time, his attention was caught by joyous giggle on the right side. In a leather sofa, he spotted Jolly and Victor, lounging like kings with their arms outstretched, while two gorgeous-looking chicks scarcely dressed fed them waffles and donuts from the packed plates in front of them on the table. Jolly caught Emir’s look and lifted the dress of the girl who fed him, showing him her perfect long legs. For a better impression, he squeezed her ass over her thongs, effecting an even stronger giggle. Without a word, she lifted her leg and clung to him even stronger.

Their eyes met and Jolly winked at him as Emir lowered his head and walked into the bakery towards the counter. A few minutes later, he came out without looking at them again. He started the van and disappeared into traffic.

“Will he call?” Victor asked.

“Naaah,” Jolly said with a laugh.

After having done what they were up to, they were no longer warmed up for the games, so they left the girls to their new customers and they drove to the hotel where they knocked themselves out and slept like logs.

When his phone rang, Victor at first did not know where he was, as he lost the notion of time.

‘It’s me.’

“Who the heck is it?” Victor asked sleepily.

‘You know who it is. If I help you, you’ll have to do something for me too.’

Victor sprung from the bed. “Say no more. I’ll see you at the bakery tomorrow morning at 07 am, at the corner with the coffee accessories,” he said cold-bloodedly before closing the call.

He was not at all surprised to hear Emir’s voice. He looked around and saw that it was almost five in the afternoon. The urge to sleep was stronger and he slipped back into bed, falling asleep in a second.

He got up before dawn, having a coffee at sunrise. He loved mornings. At the time when he suffered from nightmares caused by ugly war-time memories, he greeted every dawn with coffee and a cigarette in his hand. Now, as then, the sun was the same… but he wasn’t.

He took his car keys and just before seven o’clock, he was already standing in the bakery, waiting for his turn to buy coffee and breakfast. Exactly like a Swiss watch, at seven o’clock he saw Emir coming in and patiently waiting behind him. He paid what he ordered and with the second coffee that morning, he went to the corner of the bakery to pour sugar into a plastic cup. Emir soon joined him. Victor took a new cell phone from his jacket and placed it on the table beside his arm.

“Take this phone,” he said without looking at it. “Don’t call me on your phone anymore, just use this new one, do you understand?”

“I do.”

“The number is in memory,” he said, turning to the exit, leaving Emir to make coffee for himself as he wished.

He sat in Peugeot and watched the bakery entrance, and soon saw Emir hurrying toward the van. He didn’t start it at once as usual. Then the phone rang.

“From now on, all communication will only flow through this phone. You will throw it to the channel from the bridge when we tell you.”

‘I see. If I help you, I want a new identity and payment in Sweden, not here. I guess you work with those documents and you’ll not have a problem to issue me a new passport in the name I used when we played football, remember? I’ll send you an address in Sweden where to deliver. If you do this for me, I’ll know you’re serious.’

“Ok. Something else?”

‘Nothing else.”

“Expect my call. I’m glad you changed your mind. See you soon.”

He laid off the phone and started the car, driving straight to the flat where they moved in last night. The apartment was rented without any questions, just the way it suits them. He carried a bag with waffles in his hand, the ones his friend loves most. He found him in his boxers lounging on the couch and he had to laugh.

“You’re like a teenager waiting for your mom to bring you breakfast.”

“Well, you are like a mother. You always worry about everything. What did you bring me?”

“Well, waffles for my pretty boy,” he said, laughing.

“Wow,” Jolly rose from the couch. “Thanks, mom!” He said and grabbed the first one from the bag, swallowing slices like a pelican.

“Is it handled?”

“We have a little problem,” Victor sighed as he sat on the couch.

“What?” Jolly asked with his mouth full.

“He wants a passport and not just any name on the passport.”

“Well? What does he want?”

“Remember that fictional Italian footballer he dubbed himself when he played center-forward on the field next to the high school?”

“I remember.”

“Well, he wants that name on his passport.”

“Come on, eat shit! Why’re you upsetting me like that! You made me believe that we had a serious problem,” he waved off. “I’ll get him a passport in Santa’s name if necessary. Did you explain the rest to him?”

“I did. As soon as we deliver his passport and advance payment to Sweden, he will do the first part for us.”

“Okay,” he said, wiping his fingers on the napkin. “There’s nothing to wait for. You call Jacqueline for uniforms, and I’ll call Boris for IDs and the equipment. But first, did you have coffee? Here, I cooked some, it is fresh.”

“It’ll be the third one, fuck. This one is gonna do me like that bunny with batteries.”

“You’ll need energy, bro. A great deal of work awaits us,” Jolly said, then got up and went into the kitchen.

A week later, Victor and Jolly did their share of the work. The first part of the money and the passport were waiting for their friend in Sweden and they were ready for the next step. As before, Victor was waiting for him at the bakery, but this time, as they agreed, Emir did not queue but went straight to the toilet. With a fresh newspaper in hand, Victor stepped into the toilet unobtrusively.

“Is it clear?” he asked quietly.

“There’s nobody here,” Emir answered nervously.

“Take it easy. Enter the cabin and take off your uniform and sit on the toilet bowl. You can take a shit if you like,” he joked, trying to break his nervousness. “Here’s a newspaper to have some fun, and in half an hour I’ll be back. If by any chance anyone asks, say you have diarrhea. OK?”

Emir nodded.

“Come on, get into the cabin, and take it off. We don’t have much time.”

Without a word, Emir ran into the cabin and tossed his uniform over the door.

Victor took a black bag from his pocket and slipped his uniform in it and flew out of the bakery like an arrow, driving quickly toward the apartment. He ran up the stairs and, all panting, threw the bag from the door to Jacqueline, who was already ready to work by her sewing machine and a bunch of utility tools beside her.

“Sew, honey!” Victor exclaimed.

I sat by the machine, I was sewing, I was asked by officers whose I was,” Jolly sang, chuckling. Standing by Boris and his equipment made up of scanners, laser printers, laptops, and cables, Jolly felt like a kindergarten kid in a toy store.

“Here it is Boris, his ID card,” Victor said briefly, handing Emir’s ID. “What are you staring at?“ he asked Jolly.

“Look, man, this Boris of ours can comfortably work for NASA.”

“Yes… for NASA, and Ferrari. Remember our good Boris is also an expert in mechanics, right, dude?”

Boris just laughed, putting Emir’s ID in the scanner.

“Hands make what eyes see,” Jolly said, moving over to Jacqueline, who had already begun to examine the material and seams of the uniform and the cap and to measure them, writing down details. As soon as she finished, she handed the jacket with the emblem to Boris, who immediately scanned it.

“Are you done?”

“Yes,” Boris replied.

Jolly took the uniform and put it on right away, and stood against the white wall. Jacqueline took some photos of Jolly on all sides with a camera in her hand and waited for Victor to do the same.

As everything they wanted being accomplished, Victor stripped off his uniform with the speed of light, put it in a bag, and ran down the stairs without saying goodbye. Driving the car, he looked at his watch and saw that barely twenty minutes had passed. He smiled with satisfaction.

At the very entrance of the bakery, he slowed his pace and walked casually, straight into the toilet. He pushed his bag under the door, without saying a word.

“Fuck, you are fast.”

“Professionalism, bro,” he said, turning to wash his hands. He heard the sounds of dressing behind his back. “Is everything still on as agreed for Thursday?”

“Of course,” Emir said as he exited the cabin. “Are we alone?”

“We are, I checked.”

“You said I should park in the back parking lot behind the bakery and leave the van unlocked.”

“You remember quickly, congrats,” Victor winked.

On Thursday, Viktor and Jolly were ready, with new KLM uniforms and caps. They were waiting patiently for Emir in the secluded parking lot behind the bakery, sitting in the car.

Victor looked at his watch.

“It’s almost four in the afternoon.”

“Eh, so?”

“I don’t understand, why did you decide to go this early? Green said that flight would not be this week, and maybe not even next week.”

“I don’t want any risks,” he said, blowing out the smoke. “I want to take a test to see if the deactivation of the fuel blocker will be successful.”

“So you want to snatch one van just to test it?”

“That’s right. We’ll enter with the same van next time on the day of the robbery. And now, we will deactivate the blockers for all other vans, so whichever they use that day to transport, we don’t care. We bring it out and if they activate that blocker by chance, as they won’t, they can only blow it to us.”

“The garage for the van is prepared?”

“No, that’s what you should’ve done,” Jolly said, goggling his eyes.

“Don’t fuck me!” Victor exclaimed in panic, but when he saw Jolly laughing, his being taken aback subsided instantly. “Fuck, how can you joke like this when we’re in action?”

“I have to, just a little, to kill your jitters.”

His friend got a laugh from him even against Victor’s will, as they watched a KLM van enter the parking lot, stopping right next to them.

“It’s time to move.”

They got out of the car and jumped in the back door. Emir had already prepared everything for them behind in the van. They placed themselves under an old carpet and a bunch of boxes. The complete darkness and limited air intake made them uneasy.

“Fortunately, we don’t suffer from claustrophobia,” Victor said, feeling Emir’s driving.

They didn’t talk the whole way, only silent breathing could be heard. After ten minutes of a very uncomfortable ride, they felt Emir evidently slowing down.

“We’re in,” Emir said.

Victor noticed that he had almost stopped breathing. As soon as Emir had shifted into first gear, he let out a sigh of relief.

“We’ve entered,” Emir said.

“Couldn’t be better,” Jolly said. “Remember, leave the van in the farthest part of the parking lot.”

“Ok.”

A few minutes later, they felt the van move backward and then the silence covered them all.

“I’m leaving now. I have to sign the log list and leave the keys in the security office. The mechanics leave at six in the evening, just after dark. I’m going now and leaving the back door ajar so that you can get out. What can I tell you, buddies, good luck,” Emir said.

Victor put his hand out under the covers and raised his thumb. The next thing they heard was closing and then opening the door. Emir’s footsteps disappeared at distance and they were left waiting.

The noise from the garage was slowly disappearing under the cloak of darkness Victor pressed the clock button and saw that half-past six had already passed. He had to push Jolly next to himself, who was sinking into a sweet nap as if they were at a picnic.

“How can you sleep in a situation like this, fuck me if I know it,” he said, taking the carpet off himself as Jolly rubbed his eyes. “Come on, wake up, let’s get into action.”

They quietly got out of the van, stretching their muscles and stagnant bones, and in flawless KLM uniforms, they headed to the garage. They were rather surprised to see that the roll gate had not been lowered all the way, leaving a half meter gap to the asphalt.

“What the fuck is this, semi-open?” Jolly asked in amazement.

“They are relaxed. They don’t believe anyone would go to the garage to steal tools. Do you need help?”

“Nah,” Jolly shook his head. “Just keep watch on, lest someone come in, then we’d be fucked over,” he said, taking off his jacket, and Victor took a look once more into his vest with various kinds of tools stuck in his pockets.

Jolly slipped under the garage door and paused for a moment to check for security cameras inside, which he noticed were missing. The light at the top of the garage, which was a reflection from the airport, was somewhat illuminating the garage. He waited for a few seconds for his vision to get used to the darkness and slowly made his way to the first van. In his head, he kept spinning Boris’s instructions, which he repeated to him several times in the apartment.

‘Clean the fuel supply port that you want to disconnect. The goal is to completely remove any grease, dirt, and sludge that may make it difficult to use the tool or, even worse, fall into the fuel line after you unplug. So, you clean the house with a cutter and a cloth. Take the key to separate the fuel supply based on the size. Then, insert the tool open side down into the female part of the fuel connector. Squeeze the middle of the tool. Push the tool firmly down over the top of the fuel connector. Then pull out the fuel hose to keep it separate by twisting it slightly as you pull both ends away from each other. Then you reconnect to your new fuel drain hose. So, basically, you make a bypass with your new hose, that is, you make a new fuel line that won’t be able to be blocked.’

He sighed deeply before slipping under the first van. With a small flashlight attached to the strap on his head, he saw exactly what he needed to do and carefully began his work.

While Jolly was occupied with the fuel hoses, Viktor was bored outside. The fresh breeze made him tap in place. After ten minutes of slacking outside, he crawled into the garage and began to write down the license plates of all the vehicles in the garage in a small notebook, and then returned to the watch-keeper position a little later. He was grateful to be bored. The last things he wanted to face were adrenaline and an unpredictable situation.

With quiet and patient work, Jolly finished reconnecting the fuel hoses on all vehicles. He felt himself sweating despite the chilly weather. On the last van, after he bridged the fuel hose he opened the van, using a special tool manufactured by Boris, and managed to turn on the engine.

Having heard the sound of the engine, which was after the silence as loud as engines of a Boeing aircraft, Victor pressed the button to lift the roll gate. As soon as Jolly drove the van out, they pressed the button again with their elbows and this time the gate lowered almost to the very end, just enough to slip through rolling under it.

“Now it’s a moment of truth,” Victor said, sitting into the passenger seat.

“Relax,” Jolly said.

Jolly and Victor fastened their identification cards on their lapels and pulled their caps down. At the main gate, a young security guard just waved to them, engrossed in the UEFA League Ajax and FC Auxerre match. On the road, they felt as free as birds.

“That’s why you chose to work today! Asshole! You knew about the match!”

“UEFA Cup, you know how much these Dutch guys love football.”

“Well done,” Victor said, shaking his head.

On Wednesday morning, February 23, they received a short message from Green.

‘Tomorrow the shipment will depart from Dallas. Transshipment on the day after tomorrow.’

Since the last trip to the KLM garage, much has been put into motion. In addition to Green, who was stationed in a rented out-of-town warehouse, two assistants sent by Stony as agreed, were on their way to come there.

Altogether, they were waiting for confirmation from Green for the action. Although everything was worked out, Victor felt a slight nervousness, which, he knew, would explode as soon as they sett off into action.

The next day, Jolly’s phone rang.

“Yes?”

‘It’s me,’ Green said with his deep voice. ‘The consignment is boarded on a flight from Dallas to Amsterdam. ETA eight o’clock tomorrow morning.’

“OK.”

‘Good luck, guys.’

“See you at the celebration,” Jolly said with optimism in his voice.

He approached them in the living room and stared at Jacqueline.

“We’re leaving in the morning, and you, honey, please get your magic bag ready.”

That night, no one slept peacefully except Jolly, who acted as if the next day he had a journey to go to, not an action. Again, Victor was engrossed by insomnia, so he leaned on his elbows on the window, smoking like a chimney. He has just felt asleep before the dawn when Jolly woke up.

Without morning coffee and breakfast, as early as six in the morning, Victor parked near the main entrance at the airport cargo terminal area. When he saw the first van leave the airport, he picked up his pen and wrote down the plate and called Jolly straight away.

“04HD,” he said briefly as soon as he answered the phone.

Jolly ended the call and began to search through the car plates they had made according to Victor’s garage record of all the KLM vans. Finding the one he was looking for, he took it and put it in his bag.

Jacqueline brought KLM uniforms neatly folded into a cellophane cover. Jolly put it all in his bag, winking at her as he left. She had a sweet laugh and saluted him teasingly as a soldier.

Running down the stairs, he called Victor again.

“I’m on my way to the warehouse.”

“Me too. I’ll be there in five minutes.”

Jolly raced through the streets, arriving at the warehouse at about the same time as Victor. They drove their cars into the warehouse and spotted guys next to a KLM van they had stolen recently.

“Are the weapons already in the van?” Jolly asked, taking the uniforms from his bag.

“Yes, everything is ready,” one of the newcomers replied.

“Great,” Jolly said, putting on his uniform, as did the others.

As they dressed, Green, in his casual style, walked in among them.

“Guys, let me stress once again. The shipment is secured by Lloyd’s security, so the security guards will not trouble you. So, be light on the trigger. Is that clear?”

“Clear,” everyone confirmed quietly.

“OK. Then good luck, heroes.”

Jolly put the cap on his head and gathered the crew around him.

“We all know the deal. You two…,” he glanced at the new guys, “…you go at the back in the cargo area of the van. You are waiting for a sign of five consecutive siren sounds, which means that we have stopped the van carrying the secured shipment. You jump out, we get the guards out of the van, knock them down. Viktor and I are handcuffing and taping them while you hold them at gunpoint. Victor gets behind the wheel of the van with the shipment, I get behind the wheel of our van. One of you sits in each van and we exit through the gate and go straight to the warehouse. This is the one point where we part. You two change your clothes and leave with nothing with the car you came with. You disappear from here. Victor and I will take the vans with all the robbery equipment to the planned place in a side alley and set them on fire there. There we are picking up the car that we left there hidden the day before yesterday. Anyone has any questions before we go?” he looked at each one individually and saw the determination in the eyes of the countrymen. “Okay, then let’s get this over with.”

Jolly went to the driver’s seat when Victor’s voice stopped him. “Wait. You all put on the gloves right now, and the rollneck goes over the face when the action at the terminal starts.”

Jolly nodded and took the gloves from his pocket. He started the van on the first try and slowly drove out of the garage, watching in the rearview mirror as Green lowered the automatic door. He did not rush through the streets, because he did not want to attract the attention of people in the streets.

“What if they don’t let us inside?“ Victor wondered.

Jolly looked at him frowningly. “What, at the terminal?”

“Yes,” Victor said. “What if they ask to look in the back?”

“What the hell are you so negative about? Well, man, look how nice are the uniforms that Jacquie sewed for us. Fuck, they’re better than the original, so who wouldn’t let us in?! After all, if they don’t let us go, just floor it, brother, breakthrough the gate and hijack what belongs to us!” Jolly explained, looking forward, feeling Victor’s bewildered gaze, and then burst into laughter.

“Woo-ho, look at his face!” Jolly exclaimed, turning to the right. “Look in the rearview mirror, bro! We are not going to do anything radical. If they won’t let us pass, we turn and run away. I’m not crazy… that much,” he said, raising an eyebrow.

“I am fascinated by how you can be so cold-blooded before an action. Here you’re fooling around, there, you nap under a rug. Everything’s a fucking joke to you, and I have a storm in my stomach,” Victor said, fitting his cap better.

“Simple brother, just don’t think about it.”

“How am I not to think about it if that’s what I’m nervous about?”

“That’s it exactly, you don’t think about it,” Jolly explained, remembering Stony’s instructions at the beginning of his work in Italy. “I just think about the next step. It’s now a careful drive to get to the gate, then pass the checks at the gate, then positioning to attack at the driveway before the runway, then the attack, then execute the loot transfer, and so on. Step by step, bro. If I thought about everything at once, I’d go nuts too.”

A minute later, they reached the gate, he let the column from the opposite direction pass before turning and stopping the van in front of the gate. He cast a quick glance at his watch and saw it was exactly ten minutes to eight o’clock, while he was looking toward the shift of guards in the box. One of them looked at him and pressed the button and the gate automatically opened. He shifted into the first gear and they slowly entered the area of the airport.

“There, you see,” Jolly said. “So easy to have it in.”

He turned right and followed the path toward the cargo area of the airport, not driving fast lest they draw any attention. Reaching the end of the path leading to the runway and parked aircraft, he made a double left turn, first around the hangar to a parallel path, then to an alley between hangars, where they were waiting at the corner.

“OK, Victor!”

“OK! I motion with my hand when I see the van,” Victor said, and stepped out of the van and stood in the shadowed edge of the hangar, watching the road in both directions.

Jolly did not take his eyes off Victor, expecting his hand motion, which came in some five minutes later, around 08:02. He started the van abruptly accelerating, with the tires slightly squeaking, to cross the road for the armored van coming from the right faster than it should. Jolly saw the secure shipment van approaching his right side and unconsciously pressed on his brakes, with loud tire squeaking.

To avoid a direct collision, the security van made a sudden turn to the right at high speed, almost overturning. Every second counted, so Jolly immediately gave the agreed five-hump siren sign. The boys jumped off the van with their weapons at the ready, pointing them at the guards in the van.

“Hands up! Outside! Right now! Get out or we shoot!” they shouted together in the same voice.

Victor ran up to just behind them, he and Jolly each pulled one guard out of the van.

“Lay down! On your stomach! Face to the floor!” Jolly exclaimed, they took the handcuffs from their pockets, placing them on the guard’s hands, rub-taped their mouth, and then dragged them to a side alley where they handcuffed their feet as well. The Stony’s guys did not remove their fingers for a second from the triggers on the weapons pointed at the heads of the guards.

Viktor jumped into the security van and shifted into first gear, watching Jolly do the same in their van. The boys relaxed instantly from their shooting positions and each jumped into one van, as planned.

Jolly went first and Viktor in the secure shipment van just behind him. At the gate, the same guard who released them recognized Jolly and automatically let both vans through the gate.

Keeping an eye on speed and traffic signs, in no hurry, both vans drove away from the terminal.

“Can’t believe it! No bullet fired!” one of the armed guys yelled, all thrilled.

“Easy, bro,” Jolly said calmly. “We’re not safe yet.”

They went to the warehouse via the previously defined route and were on pins and needles the whole time, but as soon as they saw the warehouse as if they saw the light at the end of the tunnel.

As they were approaching the warehouse, Green was already opening the roller door. When they entered the warehouse, they parked right next to a MASARKA Ltd. refrigerator truck.

Everyone quickly jumped out of the van, right away taking off their uniforms one by one. Viktor was the first to strip off and put his uniform in a black bag.

“All uniforms, hats, gloves, rifles, everything in this bag,” Victor said as he ran to Green, handing him the keys. “Here, use this so you can save on explosives. Just open the door, as the civilized people do,” he said, smiling.

While Jolly was opening the refrigerator truck, Victor started a pallet truck with stacked boxes lined on the forks. The whole crew rushed to repackage the boxes from the armored van into the boxes labeled with fish and seafood. Mixing them with the other boxes, Viktor used the pallet truck and fetched the pallet to the very end of the refrigerator truck, stuffing and surrounding their pallet with the other pallets around it. In the innards of the truck, surrounded with seafood boxes, the diamonds were safe.

“Let’s go,” Jolly said, wasting no time, grabbing the black bag with the used equipment. He shook hands with the boys. “I will see you in Italy soon.”

The boys got out of the warehouse, while Victor got a bucket of fuel into each van.

That same day, local news at noon reported abandoned burnt vehicles allegedly part of the robbery to be found in the Hoofddorp industrial area. The speaker also mentioned an old lady from the residential district who saw through her window at distance the robbers burning the vans. Taking out the buckets of gasoline, she saw them pouring gasoline over everything, then throwing the buckets inside too. They set the vans on fire causing a powerful flame, then throw the lighters in vans too. Finally, they left the area in another car, but unknown as per its make.

In the apartment, they found Jacqueline with a glass of white wine in her hand, standing over a barbecue on the balcony under the bright morning sun. The aroma of succulent steaks filled their nostrils.

“I see we’ve already started celebrating,” Jolly said, particularly contented. 

“Just please don’t overdo mine, keep it medium-raw,” Victor said, tossing a cigarette into a metal trash can by the grill.

“Whoever likes his steak well-done, shouldn’t even come to my barbecue,” she said with a lovely smile.

‘Last call for flight FZ7416 to Dubai, Gate A4.’

The announcement message startled him from recollection.

He took his bag and hung it over the shoulder, then stepped toward the exit.

Gill, seeing Victor moving, did the same, and so did the two assistants.



About the author

Neboysha Saikovski lived and worked in 4 continents and survived 4 wars, walking the paths of his characters, and turned his extensive experience into inspirational stories, telling about paradoxes of the modern world, which will make you laugh and cry while reading it but unable to put it off! view profile

Published on June 09, 2020

Published by

140000 words

Contains explicit content ⚠️

Genre: Thriller & Suspense

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