Ocean’s Eleven meets The Sopranos and The Godfather 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.
Targeted Age Group:: 13 – 103
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
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. I have been writing my first novel “Pink Panthers: The Greatest Thieves in the World” for the last three years but I dreamt about writing it for the last 15 years since I read the reports of their first robberies.
By personalizing the functioning of criminal cartels, the horrors of war, the violent discord of country and pitiful dissolution of a family, and showing the results of these bold events have on individuals is the general theme I tried to dive into with this novel. The light form of adventure drama shows the correlation of organized crime, social anomalies, wars, and interests of the great who ruthlessly manipulate and destroy the lives of the small, from individuals to nations. The background story 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 the intertwining of the diamond business with drug cartels, human trafficking, interests of banks, corporate and military-industrial magnates and diplomatic-political machinations.
If you’re curious what it’s like to be a Pink Panther, read this book. If you have the courage, dare follow the steps of our heroes, embark on an action-adventure with the Pink Panthers, and personally experience the world’s most famous diamond robberies. Furthermore, find out how diamonds are made and come to that array of glittering shops, from the hot sands of Africa where greedy corporations exploit human and mineral resources in collaboration with corrupt politicians, through shining modern Europe all the way to Dubai. Get to know the dark world behind all that glitter and glow of riches, touch the blood, sweat, and tears that they represent in reality.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
I considered them yet another gang 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, Dubai! 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.
I tried to explain where they come from as well as the background story of all those criminal cartels they interacted with. I obsess about my characters, as an infatuated lover, mixing up fantasy with the reality, my own experience, and reflections with ideas I mean to convey. I dream of them, I think of them day and night, observe them telling me their stories, talking and listening to them. I have a rich imagination and create whole dialogues and scenes, even chapters in my mind before writing them down. Then I add the narrative and descriptions according to my objective and themes I want to describe and convey.
Memories Part III
(2004 Louvre Heist $14M, 2005 Amsterdam Heist $118M, Preps for Dubai heist)
Childhood friends’ reunion
“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
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.
“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.
“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.
“London and Zurich. Let’s go.”
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.”
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.’
‘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.”
“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?”
“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.
‘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.
“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
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.
“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!'’
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.
“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.
“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.”
“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
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.
‘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.
“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.
“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?”
“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?”
“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?”
“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?”
“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.”
“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.”
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.
‘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.’
‘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! 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.
Memories Part IV
(Saint-Tropez 2005, Dubai 2007)
The red-hot asphalt of Dubai airport runway welcomed the flight from Belgrade. As Airbus slowly rolled toward the exit, Victor caught hold of his pocket and checked his passport once more. Although he knew by heart every detail of the passport, he once again checked his new name to get ready for the passport check. Arriving at the targeted landing zone, pilots began shutting down the powerful engines and people around him began to get up and retrieve their luggage from the compartment. He always wondered why people were in such a hurry on the way out as if the first one to get out would win a girl or some other reward waiting there. He waited in his seat, looking through the oval space as the airport crew rushed to empty the plane and prepare it for the next flight. Seeing more than half the plane empty, he got up and took his handbag. Looking around, he saw the other guys waiting for his move.
They all left the plane together, deliberately pausing, mixing with the crowd that still exited the plane. He felt a slight nervousness when he queued up for the passport check. Although he knew that passports were more than valid, he was still nervous. The mere thought that upon the completed job there is a chance of his ending up in jail in a country that observes and enforces Sharia law, aroused a desire to return back to the safety of the Balkans. He shook his head imperceptibly, wondering where all of a sudden so many black thoughts came from. He knew where from in the depths of his soul. He missed Jolly. He felt it wasn’t the same anymore.
He passed the passport check without a hitch, which banished nervousness from his head. Not for one moment did he turn toward Gill and the guys, hoping that they too had passed without a problem. Upon leaving the air-conditioned airport, dry and hot air surged over his face and in his lungs. Instantly, he began to sweat. He hated the desert climate, wishing once again to be back in the Balkans. He waited, standing aside, pretending to be checking messages on his cell phone, waiting for the rest of the crew, who appeared a few minutes later, all in time. He nodded unobtrusively and took the first taxi in line, giving out a note with a written address. He knew the others too would do it at intervals. The last thing he wanted to be was for them to get anybody’s attention.
In front of a small local shopping mall, the taxi stopped and after paying him neatly in dollars, he took his bag and backpack and left. Waiting for the cab to get away, he crossed the road to a parking lot where he had already spotted Jacqueline boiling hot in the sun in front of a rented car. They hugged each other cordially, both laughing as two lost friends encountering each other again.
“Well, where are you, pretty boy? How was your trip?”
“All fine. Come on, Jacquie, look at you, every time you get more gorgeous,” he laughed teasingly.
“You know how they say, woman, like wine, gets better with age.”
“It is as you say.”
“Where are the others?”
“On their way. Let’s get into the car, I’m dying in this sun.”
As soon as they entered, Jacqueline started the car and the air conditioner and he felt better instantly. The cool air suited him more than anything at that moment.
One by one, as planned, the guys came and Victor invited them across the street. All having forgathered in the car, Jacqueline shifted into first gear and drove them to the apartments already prepared.
But not everything went according to the plan. Stopping the car in front of a building, Jacqueline got out, looking stunned at the entrance of the building, and exclaimed: “Fucking Orbitz!”
“A problem?” Victor asked through the open window.
“Of course it’s a problem!” she exclaimed. “The hotel I booked is no longer here!”
The guys watched her in astonishment as she walked into the building, then giving the doorman a row. A tiny doorman of Asian descent glanced confusedly and fearfully at the tall woman whose strong husky voice resonated in anger, trying in vain to explain. Jacqueline waived off furiously, then dashed her way back to the car.
“So?” Victor asked.
“Nothing! No hotel closed twenty days ago! Fucking Orbitz, how they fucked me up, sold me an arrangement for a nonexistent hotel.”
“Where’ that scumbag Orbitz, I will break his both legs?!” Gill asked angrily from the back seat.
“Heck, it’s an online agency!” Jacqueline laughed. “Nothing. I’ll accommodate the two of you at the Al Khoory Hotel. It’s right there on the next street.”
After placing Doolle and Bolle in the new apartment, they moved on toward the other apartment planned for Victor and Gill.
“Guys, in the message I sent you, you have the flat and floor number… in this flat, the fridge’s full,” she said, parking in front of the building entrance. “The apartment is clean and nice, you have all you need,
even bread, and don’t have to buy anything. If you need anything, you have the number.”
“Thanks, darling,” Victor winked. “Come and get me tomorrow morning, we’ll reconnoiter our target.”
They both thanked her warmly, removed their bags from the trunk, and headed to the prepared apartment. After taking a shower, they fell asleep one by one as mown hay in their rooms, beneath the relentless air conditioner.
The next day, Jacqueline and Victor began an intense companionship. They acted as an enamored couple of tourists visiting an Arab paradise. And had no hard time doing it. Holding hands, they toured shops at the Wafi Center, staring at the shop windows, approximating the target, the Graff Jewelry. He turned to look once more toward the entrance, still admiring the imitation of an ancient-Egyptian settlement, with pillars, gigantic statues of Pharaohs and mythic animals, and the obelisk at the very entrance to the WafiCity.
“I guess you like the target,” Jacqueline said in a low voice. “A five-star hotel designed to resemble a giant Egyptian pyramid.” Victor looked at her, smiling. “A traditional bazaar was reconstructed in the basement. There are also restaurants, a nightclub, spas, and many shops, about 200 in total, of which about thirty are jewelry stores.”
“Aw, heck, a lot.”
“You don’t by any chance want to do them all,” she said, mocking him a little.
“I have some appetite, Jacquie, but not that big,” he said, holding her hand even tighter, laughing with her.
Without hurrying, they walked slowly through the center, pausing and watching. Jacqueline decided to renew her collection of beautiful high heels, and while they were successfully acting tourists, Victor shifted unnoticeably to the work mode. Circling around the center, Victor counted the exact number of steps from the targeted jewelry store to every possible exit, and when they sat down to have coffee, he took out his notebook and carefully wrote everything down, then put it back in his pocket. They sat for a little while longer, chit-chatting casually, before returning each to their apartment.
The next morning, just after the first coffee, Jacqueline picked him up with her car and they set off to drive around the residential area in the narrower and wider circles around the Wafi Center. They circled for hours until they memorized every street, intersection, and traffic light.
“Fuck me if I don’t know this place better now than the streets in our hometown,” she said.
Victor, in all his concentration, could not resist a burst of sudden laughter, infecting Jacqueline with it too.
“Heck, yes! What are you laughing at!” she continued. “If this scheme fails, I’ll stay here to work as a taxi driver, I swear!”
“Come on Jacquie, forget about jokes, we need to focus on work,” Victor said, still in a fit of laughter.
When he was sure that he had remembered the layout of the whole area, he paid attention to police stations. He carefully charted them on the map, and over the next few days, as detectives from American films, they focused on observing the terrain, studying routes of possible movement, and shift changes of police patrols. It required a lot of patience, time and concentration, and above all gratitude for the car air conditioner, which served them all too well.
Sitting in the car across the police station, Victor glanced nervously at his watch.
“What, you’re in a hurry to somewhere?”
“No way. Just looking the time.”
“So what’s it?” Jacqueline asked.
„21.30. Police patrols shift changes are between 9pm and 10pm, and this police station is closest to the Wafi Center and we need to measure the distance and time to the Wafi Center,” he said, writing down the time in his notebook.
Jacqueline slams into the first gear and quickly exits the parking lot, stuck in the evening crowd.
“Fucking rush-hour! What a crowd! What the hell for are they driving so much, do these people ever sleep?”
“What’s the matter, Jacquie? What are you so nervous about?”
“Well, I’m starving! We’ll never get to that restaurant at this snail’s pace!”
Victor laughed. “Great, fuck. It can’t get any better.”
“What the heck is so great?” Jacqueline exclaimed, tapping her hand on the wheel. “You know it’s not good when I’m hungry! I’m ready to bite everyone around!”
“I mean business, it’s great for business! At this time, it’s a spike, the city’s hustle, and bustle, and also the police’s shift exchange. That will slow down the chase after the robbery while we’ll be running in the opposite direction, away from the police. By the time they hear the robbery has happened and as they make their way through the city bustle, we’ll already be drinking champagne in the apartment.”
“I can’t,” Jacqueline said with a grimace on her face.
“What can’t you?”
“Well, drink champagne. For a reason it’s been making me sick lately,” she said with a smile.
“My dear, we’ll drink whatever you want! Whatever!” Victor exclaimed. “By the way, did you make an appointment for a car rental tomorrow?”
“I did! They are the only agency with the Audi limos that you asked for,” she answered.
“Perfect! And now run over that cattle so we get there as soon as possible. You choose the menu tonight!”
“How hungry I am, a roasted ox wouldn’t do!” Jacqueline exclaimed with saliva in her mouth.
The scent of freshly made coffee filled his nostrils and elicited a smile to his face. There is nothing more relaxing than a perfect morning. Dreamily opening his eyes, he stretched his entire body and stood up. Lured by the scent, he entered the kitchen and greeted his old chum.
“Oh, good morning! In the heart of the desert!” Gill said, laughing. “The coffee is ready, just get some.”
“Yeah, dude, you’re golden-hearted,” Victor said as he sat down at the table and pouring his coffee out of a briki. “Where did you find a briki here?”
“That’s my briki,” Gill said. “I don’t go anywhere without it.”
Victor laughed sincerely, grabbing a cigarette from the table.
“Wait, you travel around the world with the briki?”
“Of course,” Gill replied readily. “What kind of a Balkan dude would I be if I didn’t have coffee made in a briki? You don’t think that I’d have that filtered junk?”
“Oh Gill, dear, you made my morning,” he said, still laughing.
“So, how are the preps going? I see you’ve been out all day.”
“Everything’s going as planned,” he said, blowing off the first smoke. “How do you and the guys kill the time?”
“It’s good, we sleep a lot, we have an afternoon coffee in a cafe down the right corner. We try to sit at different tables, as you told us, not to draw attention as a group.”
“Great,” Victor nodded, sipping his coffee. “This coffee’s great, baby. Hands and briki of gold.”
Gill laughed heartily.
“Yesterday we were at that beach across the street from their hotel. The waiter from the cafe suggested to me it was the closest and the best, there’s a shuttle bus every day. We’d go today as well. Do you want to join us later to freshen up a little in the sea?”
“Maybe I will,” he answered readily. “Today we’ll go for a reconnaissance together, then I have a smaller acquisition, you go then to the beach, maybe I run by there in the late afternoon,” he said, stretching again. “Wooh, how fucking tired I am. This reconnoitering by car screwed me over. I could never be a cop or a truck driver, fuck me if I lie… My spine is killing me this way anyway. And how do you handle this heat?”
“No how,” Gill exclaimed. “…but we have to be getting used to it slowly. We came here in jackets, and it’s burning here, and just imagine how it’s in the summertime. Thank goodness, that everything is air-conditioned.”
“It is as you say it, bro,” Victor said, looking at his watch. “We have to go, bro, to do what we still have to do, and then we can relax a little. Me too.”
“You have to, otherwise you will burn out like a fuse,” Gill said.
Victor laughed again, looking at his companion whom he’s been becoming more and more fond of. He sipped his coffee and intended to wash his mug.
“Leave it, I’ll wash it,” Gill stopped him, taking his mug from his hand.
“Fuck, bro, you turned into a nice housewife,” Victor said jokingly.
“Well, bro, how much you’re paying me, I’ll make a housewife too, no problem.”
Victor shook his head in laughter and went to the bathroom.
Last night after dinner with Jacqueline, he drove her home and today he took over the steering wheel of what was her car up to yesterday. He picked up the guys and driving slowly, he explained his reconnoitering results and the idea for the action. Before heading to the Wafi Center, they made a few circles around the settlement in the morning sun, consolidating their knowledge of the layout of streets and alleys. As driving in circles has become monotonous, since they have memorized every corner, they rode to the Wafi Center. He gave them instructions on what to pay attention to, and each one would go by himself.
Slightly before noon, the Wafi Center was filled with tourists and locals, while the shops were working full steam. In no hurry, they walked around the center. Victor again checked the distance from the jewelry store to the exit, to check for a case of error. He took out his notebook unnoticeably and found out that his notes were all correct. They made a break, again each one for himself. Eye-catching and mouth-watering food photos tempted him and he decided to treat himself to one of the rich sandwiches from fast-food shops. He had a soda too, relaxing in his chair as he watched the world around him.
He has not forgotten why he headed to the city in the first place. Dropping the guys to the beach, he drove to a huge toy store in Deira residential area that looked like a children’s paradise, where he picked perfect replica guns for the crew, tossing a couple of dolls into the basket too, lest he draws any attention.
It was already past noon, and he felt a slight weakness under the flaring sun. He knew he still had a lot to do and headed to Al Nasser Square in the same residential area of Deira, where he bought the rest of the equipment. He duly paid his overalls, safety gloves and glasses at a construction supplies store and stuffed everything into the trunk of the car. Just as he put the key in the car door lock, his cell phone rang.
“Hey! It’s me!”
He immediately recognized Jacqueline’s sensual voice.
“Hey! Say it, darling.”
“Your Audi has arrived. I left it outside the building. The key is in the compartment,” she said briefly.
“OK. Do they have another like that one?”
“This one is white, the other is black, the same model. They are in the same parking lot. The agency is open until five in the afternoon, and after working hours cars are parked down at the garage of the mall. And yes, the garage is open-type”.
“Good job. Thank you,” he said, closing the phone.
The desire to try Audi grew inside him so he chased little Nissan through the city bustle all the way to the building. He noticed the white color of the Audi sparkling in the sun. He left Nissan just behind Audi. Out of precaution, he locked the Nissan and opened the door of the Audi, which was unlocked. He took out the key from the glovebox that Jacqueline had just left and started the engine. On the first try, the Audi engine came back to life and the feeling of limo luxury was indescribable. He was overwhelmed by the joy of steering such a powerful and reliable car. He swung the car out to the road and pressed the pedal so strongly that the engine whined and the tires squealed. He fit with the Audi perfectly into the traffic of luxury cars on the streets of Dubai. Although the Audi looked exceptional in his eyes, it did not attract attention at all in the street. He toured the area around the mall once again. Then he drove the long way to the beach, wanting to check on the guys and for them to consolidate the joint preps.
Leaving the Audi in a large parking lot by the beach, he walked along the promenade, peering at café balconies. At one of the many, he noticed the wide back of his old friend by the bar sipping a cold drink from a condensed glass. He went to the right and sat down by the bar, but not too close to Gill. He looked around the cafe and balcony and saw Bolle in the right corner of the balcony, with a beer on the table.
“What’re you up to, prick,” Victor said quietly, with a harsh glance, lowering his backpack to the floor. “I see you and Bolle. Where’s Doolle? Is he in the sea?“ he asked and ordered a beer in English from a kind bartender.
“Doolle picked up a girl. She was smiling at him from the bar. They looked at each other as birds for quite some time, until he gathered his strength to approach her. They danced a little and went to the flat a few moments ago,” Gill said, taking a sip.
“He’d better prepare the money then. He’s probably already realized by now that he’d have to pay.”
“What do you mean?” Gill looked at him questioningly. “You mean she’s a whore?”
“Come on, buddy, you act like a blind man with healthy eyes, fuck,” Victor looked at him, smiling. “So just turn around. Look at the cunts at the bar, all dressed-up, full makeup, high heels, fancy dresses at the beach, and they look at you, not because you’re good-looking, but because they think you have cash. This is a Muslim country, bro. They can’t throw themselves in your arms here, you look at them and when you pick which one you want, you just give her a hint.”
“Aw, heck! And I thought Doolle was not so equipped to catch chicks so easily.”
“Whores, bro!” Victor exclaimed, laughing at Gill and his dull expression. “Come on, let’s forget Doolle and his adventures,” he said, pushing his backpack closer to him. “In this backpack are cables. A white Audi S8 is in the parking lot on your right. Go do some exercise. Try starting it with these cables.”
“Ok,” he said, and drank the rest of his drink in one sip. “What about the keys?”
“Try to open it with tools. If you fail, don’t worry. I have already sent a picture of the model to a locksmith. Copies would arrive by DHL the next day if necessary. I just need to make a phone call. The most important thing is to check if Audi can be started with these cables.”
“Okay,” Gill said, pushing the empty glass away. “This is all paid so far,” he said, bending to take his backpack before hurrying toward the parking lot.
Victor pulled a cigarette out of his pocket and walked to Bole’s desk with an unlit cigarette between his teeth. Pretending not to know him, he asked him with a gesture for his lighter, and Bolle readily pulled one out of his pocket.
“I can’t forbid you to hang out,” Victor began quietly. “It would be wise though not to draw too much attention. Our goal is to disappear after the job without anyone remembering our stay here. Tell Doolle to chill out, there will be opportunities for partying and cunts once we work the job off and get away from here.”
Bolle took the lighter back and nodded. “I’ll tell him.”
But, Victor suddenly felt dizzy and hurried to the barstool. He felt a sudden aversion to the cigarette and squeezed it in the ashtray in front of him. He took a couple of deep breaths, which only increased his dizziness and awakened nausea in his stomach. He felt annoyed by the heat that was choking him and he broke out in a cold, clammy sweat. He had the urge to strip off his clothes in the middle of the cafe, with an urgent need to cool down. He pulled out his wallet and put a bill on the counter before heading out to the boardwalk, floundering toward the parking lot. He recognized the sound of the powerful Audi engine and Gill’s ejecting anger from it by pressing hard the gas pedal. He leaned on his elbows onto the Audi, knocking on the window.
“It starts, Victor! Ignites like a rocket!” Gill shouted enthusiastically as he lowered the window.
“Great, buddy!” Victor said, catching his breath. “So we’ve settled it! Let’s now go eat something, I feel somewhat wea…”
He did not manage to finish the sentence. His sight blackened. The sun, heat, promenade, and cafe disappeared as he collapsed leaning on the Audi. He could feel his shallow breathing and his heart beating faster than the pistons of the Audi engine. He knew he was on the verge of completely losing consciousness.
“Buddy! Buddy!!!” Gill’s words echoed in his ears somewhere at distance. He knew he was with him, but he couldn’t see him. Mild blows to his cheeks brought him back to life, happy to feel the sun igniting his tired eyes again.
“Bro, hey! Wake up, hey!”
“I’m awake, awake! I just feel a bit weak,” he said, breathing shallowly, worried about Gill’s frightened gaze. “Why you crapped your pants, fuck? I’ve not died.”
“Why, how wouldn’t I! You slumped down like an old tree!”
“Is there any water in the car?”
“None!” Gill exclaimed, tearing the cables from the Audi dashboard. “We’re going to the cafe to get you something to freshen up,” he said, thrusting the cables into his backpack, and then he took Victor up. “Can you walk?”
“I can. I can always get to a bar,” he muttered, getting to make Gill laugh, at least briefly.
“We’re going to refresh now,” Gill said in an encouraging tone, holding him tightly around his shoulders.
Returning to the bar, Gill took him to the first deck chair in the shade of the balcony, onto which Victor collapsed like a house of cards.
A minute later, Gill returned with bottles of water and natural juices and Victor drank them up like a camel. Watching him pour the liquid into himself, not heeding the spilled water on his shirt, Gill got even more concerned. He took his cell phone and dialed another number he had stored on his phone.
“Hello? It’s me! We have a problem.”
Saint Tropez Heist
Lying on the deck chair, Victor felt much better and somehow more relaxed, though he still felt exhausted. Quenching his original thirst, he slowly drank alternately water and juice, looking at a cheerful group of beach tourists who rented two water scooters. He smiled, looking at the blundering tourists who didn’t even know how to properly put life vests on their shoulders.
What has been troubling him secretly below the surface, now has emerged again. His lost friend Jolly. He felt a pang of missing him so. He recalled the early days of August 2005, when the two of them were so merry riding the waves on these powerful water toys.
In the summer of 2005, after a cold winter and a successful job in Amsterdam, he and Jolly returned home for a longer vacation, in the heart of summer. It was their favorite routine anyway, a long vacation in the safety of their own homeland. They spent all their days on the beach of their favorite rivers and lakes, spending their money on a raft restaurant of Host-Salle. They did not lack drinks and food, as well as the sun and a good atmosphere.
“Bro! We got as lazy as lobsters,” Jolly said, sunbathing on a deck chair.
“Yep. And what’s wrong with that?”
“We had enough of lounging around. We bake in the sun as if we were roast pigs. Let’s speed up our heartbeats a bit.”
“Hey, I don’t feel right now like going after those girls from last night. I want some rest from them, too,” Victor said with his eyes closed, absorbing the sunbeams like a little plant.
“Oh, no! Let’s get our asses on those jet skis down there on the beach! Let’s take a few rides, just for the heck of it! What do you say?”
Victor opened his eyes and looked in the direction Jolly was pointing to him.
“Let’s go! Why not!” he yelled vibrantly at the idea. Jolly hopped up and yelled at Salle on the raft.
“Salle! Throw us the keys! We’re going to ride those water bikes of yours!”
Salle got up from his chair and took the keys from his pocket and threw them into Jolly’s hands.
“Okay, guys! Vests are down by the dock on the stairs! When you get back here, fish will be ready! I’ve got a new specialty! We’ll eat when you get back, and then we’ll go boating!”
“Good, host,” Victor yelled, grabbing one of Jolly’s keys. “I see you’ve already planned everything!”
They went down to the scooters and retrieved their vests, laughing like children.
“Again, Salle prepares fish specialties for us.”
“That means we’ll again have to go for a roast pig later,” Jolly said, buttoning his vest. “Those fish specialties of his just make me hungrier”.
Victor laughed incessantly at his friend’s monologue, riding up his scooter.
“Bro, let’s spend this little energy we are left with, so later one piggy will pay with its roast head,” Victor said, starting the scooter and not waiting for his friend, throttled up and rushed down the river. Jolly did not waste a single moment, but he jumped on the other scooter, turned it on, and floored the throttle, running the scooter with all its engine power over the waves made by Viktor.
They were chasing and overtaking each other, acting like children when they get a new toy. Laughter and shouting were not lacking as they alternated in the lead over the waves caused by their stunts. Riding on the waves tired them, so they decided to race back toward the raft, where host-Salle already waited for them with cold and condensed beers.
Throwing their vests off, they sat on the patio and lifted their legs against the railing, resting their muscles.
“You’re kicking ass, you know.”
“What the heck?” Victor looked at him questioningly.
“Well, driving, brother. You could be behind the wheel next time we get in combinations.”
“I wouldn’t mind,” Victor said, tossing off half a bottle of beer, feeling it refreshing him from his throat to his stomach.
With the arrival of the host Salle, the conversation about combinations was put to silence. He pulled out a chair and sat between them, carrying three new bottles in his hand.
“Look at this beach,” Salle said with a sigh. “Barbecue gazebos, numerous restaurants, and bars should all be the trademark of this beach. But not only that!” he exclaimed. “Parking places, roller skates, and bikers tracks, lifeguards, access for people with disabilities, all of those remain but a dream. I also planned playgrounds that would turn this bathing resort, along with the rest of the contents, into a sports and recreation center unmatched in the region. This beach would pull in other businesses and beach development in neighboring districts as well. I’ve invested a lot of myself in all that planning, a lot of my ideas are dying down with the beach,” he said, sighing heavily, and took a swig. “The reality is, the simplest thing, they don’t give a fuck,” he said, looking at the water panorama. “The authorities have not invested a dime in infrastructure development. Behold, they’ve not yet granted me a power connection for the third year in a row now, hey! Well, fuck it if anyone’s normal here! We have two fucking hydroelectric plants in the district, we sell electricity all over Southeast Europe, and I can’t get electrical power at the restaurant!”
“Wait a minute, Salle,” Victor said, looking confused. “Then how come you have the power at your place?”
“Well, from Drago,” he said resigned.
“Who the heck is Drago?” Jolly asked with a chuckle.
“Oh, Mitza’s Drago! He lives up across the road! He connected me with an extension cable!” Salle said, turning and pointing toward the road. “In turn, I also settle his electricity and water bills. But what’s it worth when he’s a fool! I give him the money to pay the bills, and he goes and drinks the money and then the electric company cuts both him and me off the power. Fuck it.”
Jolly laughed heartily while Victor tried to sympathize with Salle’s hardships, though Jolly’s contagious laughter was hard to ignore.
“Why don’t you talk to Drago? He’ll screw your business over with his dipsomaniacal compotation,” Victor said jokingly.
“Fuck the idiot! That fool has shit instead of a brain.”
“So, Salle, what do you say we save you both from Drago the Drunkard and the power line hassle?” Jolly asked with a teasing smile on his face.
“How’s that?” Sale looked at him questioningly.
“Well, sell it to us altogether.”
“Oh! It’s as if you were reading my mind!” Salle hopped on the chair of the excitement. “If I could sell everything, I’m off for Germany!”
“Why to Germany?” Victor asked.
“I have this little lady banker over there. She lives and works there and she’s been calling me for years to get there, she says she can get me a job with her at the bank or through some of her bank clients. There’s no life here, bro, and I’d marry her right away. I wouldn’t come back here if I only could,” he said mawkishly, grabbing the bottle.
“What the heck are you so negative about? Well, just the two of us leave you a couple hundred Euros a day. It’s not quite as grim as you paint,” Victor protested.
“It is, like fuck, all in appearance only. These few summer months the business revives a little, it is correct, and then it all dies down again in the winter. To no avail I organize to have live music and nice wine and good food here in the winter, all in vain, not a living soul comes for more than six months.”
“Come on, let’s have a serious talk now, Salle,” Jolly disrupted his whining. “How much would the boat and the scooters cost? This raft restaurant is not worth much, but the equipment could be discussed.”
Sale goggled his eyes in wonder. “Wait, you aren’t screwing me about the sale?”
“No,” he answered briefly and seriously.
“So, you got me on the wrong foot a little now,” he scratched his chin. “Well, let everything fucking go to hell for twelve thousand Euros! Six for the speedboat and give me two grands for the raft and each scooter!”
Jolly looked at him and nodded.
“All right, but what about the option if I give you twenty thousand Euros and you deliver me it all to France?”
“Come on, Jolly, twenty g’s is too much! Putting it all on a truck and shipping it to France would not cost more than a thousand Euros.”
“Like the rest of the money is for the whole place plus to forget who you sold it to,” Jolly winked at him.
“For twenty grand I’ll forget I ever had all this, man!” Salle exclaimed and made everyone around laugh.
“Bring on some more beer then, host, let’s celebrate our deal!” Victor yelled and Sale hopped like a scalded cat to the counter, while Jolly wasted no time, snatching his cell phone.
“Where are you Jacquie, honey! Come on, please be a sweetie and book us that cruise for the last week of August. Yes, three cabins to our names. That’s right, seven beds in total, two triple and one single for you. And please emphasize to them that you will come onboard in Nice and the six of us in Barcelona. You got it? Great, honey! And kisses to you, too,” he said and closed it.
“So we’re starting off, huh?” Victor asked.
Jolly just grinned from ear to ear.
* * *
Dear passengers, we’re expecting to disembark in Nice at about 10 o’clock. More information on offered excursion options can be found at the reception on deck 5, where our friendly staff awaits you.
As soon as the pleasant female voice from the speakers disappeared, the early-morning music continued, aiming at waking passengers up. Jolly’s eyes devoured the sea blueness surrounding the modern cruiser, while he was having a cigarette relaxed on the open deck under the clear sky. He smashed the rest of the cigarette in the ashtray and finished coffee left in the mug. Passengers had been attacking the buffet at the Lido Deck since early morning as bloodthirsty predators, and it was already past nine. He passed along them, disgusted at the gluttony they were showing, carrying plastic trays with small hills of food.
Climbing up the stairs to the seventh floor, Jolly awoke his body and muscles and felt better and more alert. He knocked on the cabin door and Victor appeared with a worried look.
“What’s the matter?” Jolly asked, feeling all the positive feelings fading away.
“Not good. Get in.”
Jolly walked in and noticed a guy in the corner, sitting in a chair with his arms crossed and clenched. His left leg twitched and jerked in quick and nervous pace resembling an engine piston, while his head nodded uncontrollably from left to right. The very sight of the guy who was to go with them into this job combination scared him.
“Hey brother, what the fuck is wrong with him?” Jolly whispered, looking at Victor in shock.
“It started early this morning, as soon as he woke up,” Victor whispered. “I tried talking to him, but to no avail. He has a blockage in his head,” he said with a long and worried exhale. “I can’t say I don’t understand him. I went through it all after the war. Let’s go out into the hallway, to leave him alone with his demons.”
Jolly turned after Victor and they walked out into the hallway, closing the cabin door ajar.
“Is there any way to handle this?” he asked impatiently.
“Come on, Jolly, it’s not a toothache to get a tooth out, take a pill, and the problem is solved. That will take a long time. We can’t help him now except to remedy the cause, and in this case, the trigger is the panic about the job.”
“Fucking hell,” Jolly sighed, rubbing his forehead. “And he was suspicious to me too, never liked those overhyped dissolving tablets.”
“Yeah, he was overly ecstatic about the job… I call them dissolving tablets, had bad experiences with that kind. I prefer serious and reserved associates who ask a lot of questions, those who are fired up too early always raised concerns.”
“Where did you find him?” Victor asked.
“A buddy recommended him to me, says he is quite a reliable guy, honest, apt, won’t fuck over. He has some sad story, fuck, his mother is like sick, so he was raising money for surgery and I said, well, let me help him,” he said, glancing at him worriedly. “Was your head shaking like that?”
“Huh!” Victor laughed nervously. “It was even worse for me.”
“Please, not on your life, you too to be shaking heads in duet with him, as if you were at a Metallica concert.”
“I won’t, don’t worry,” he said, laughing openly. “We’ll help him this time bro, but after this job, he goes to retirement as far as we’re concerned.”
“I agree,” Jolly said, nodding. “But the problem remains. What do we do now? He was to be a shooter.”
“Nothing, he’ll ride a scooter. I’ll hold the gun, we already agreed, while he was still somewhat normal. He told me he could ride a scooter, he was even relieved once he heard that he didn’t have to hold a gun. Just relax, everything will be fine.”
“Wait!” Jolly looked at him in surprise. “You’re going to be a shooter? Didn’t you say at the start you would just be doing logistics?”
“Brother, one does what one must. After all, it’s not some philosophy. We thrust in and I scream like a madman with a gun pointed at their faces, LIE DOWN! LIE ON THE FLOOR!” Victor shouted loudly, acting as if he held a gun in his hand.
“Don’t shout so loud, fuck! What’re you screaming for like a maniac!” Jolly stopped him, looking over his shoulder. “You want someone to call security! People will think you’re really mugging me!”
“Fuck it, I got carried away,” Victor said with a laugh.
“I see it, heck,” Jolly said, laughing with his friend. “That’s right, it’s not some science. As soon as you come in, you point the gun, you scream and those wusses are gonna at once shit their pants, knowing we are taking control.”
“We go in, smash and grab, and it’s over.”
“Exactly,” Jolly confirmed, tapping him on the shoulder. “Brother, but one thing is not clear to me.”
“Why did you insist that we pay Ahmed for parking the scooters when we have already booked and leased the whole restaurant at that dock, what was its fucking name again?”
“Viviers du Pilon,” Victor replied readily.
“That one. We could all get out there together, get in the car, and run.”
“Risk handling bro, what Americans call risk management. The farther the better. Once we have the booty, we’re running off in all directions.”
“I know, brother, but I think we’re investing too much in preps. We’re left with hardly anything from the prepayment. Instead of three, now there are six of us for this action, plus three cars, speedboats, scooter, a restaurant lease, and paying Ahmed tor park the scooters… it’s a lot, Victor,” he said, nodding in dissatisfaction.
“I know brother, but we were in reconnoitering together. You saw that traffic jam, that traffic vortex. Running off by car is sheer suicide. We would be caught at the second intersection. To look for a crib for stash ain’t worth it, there are too many witnesses, a million tourists, both locals and from the cruiser. The only clear escape route is across the sea. In the open sea, we get onto the scooters and go back to the coast, then onto the D98A highway, which connects us to the road for Nice and straight to the cruiser. It is better to invest more in prep and have a safe escape than to economize and fall.”
Jolly looked at him for a few seconds and then nodded. “You’re right. That’s why I have you. My genius,” he said with one of those smiles that he’s been known for.
* * *
A beautiful and sunny day dawned on August 30, 2005. Under clear skies, just before six in the morning, a large cruiser cast its anchor in front of a picturesque little fishing town of Villefranche-Sur-Mer. Only four kilometers’ distance separated this little town from the world-famous Nice.
One after another, small boats carried passengers from the cruiser to the little town. One of them carried Viktor, Jolly, and four other guys who were sitting patiently and watching the surroundings. Victor was not indifferent to the Mediterranean beauty of the French coast either, admiring the Villefranche promenade and the swarming balconies of restaurants and hotels. An idea crossed his mind that a place like this would be ideal to spend one’s holidays in, resting one’s soul and mind.
The moment three-man crew moored the boat to the dock, the guys were among the first to step on the stone pier. Without hurry, all six walked along with a group of other tourists, turning left toward the parking lot where they had scheduled a meeting with Jacqueline.
“Where the heck is she? Don’t tell me she’s late,” Jolly exclaimed, bewildered.
Victor laughed at his companion, having recognized a beauty with sunglasses on her face, who put on a short-bob red wig over which she wore a wide modern straw hat. In a tight colorful summer dress, she swayed her hips like on a catwalk as she went to meet them.
“Fuck you and your power of observation,” Victor replied to Jolly, smiling at Jacqueline. “Guys, you wait here,” he said, stepping up to meet her up.
“Hi, guys! Welcome to Nice!” she greeted them with a smile.
“Bonjour, mademoiselle,” Jolly replied, stopping next to Victor.
“Every time, you’re more beautiful,” Victor remarked.
“What can I do? I have to be nice in Nice.”
“And you’ll be even nicer in Saint Tropez,” Jolly winked.
“Let’s go through the plan once more and work it out, and we’ll joke later,” Victor said, looking at both. “So, let’s reiterate. We will moor the speedboat at the main dock of Guepratte in the center of Saint Tropez. When we work the job off, we take the speedboat to the high seas where we convey to the scooters and on them we come to you on the beach at the restaurant Viviers du Pilon. You are waiting for us, as soon as you see us coming on scooters, we convey you the bags into your big white leather beach bag. Then you go to your car, leave the loot in the trunk and drive directly to the parking lot of La Mouillage hotel and leave it there with the key in the compartment where Dora will pick it up. You go out to the main entrance of the hotel where we pick you up with our car,” Victor said in one breath, not losing his rhythm. “Did you check out of the hotel?”
“Yes, I did.”
“Are the phones in the cars?”
“Yes, there are three in each.”
Victor turned and waved at the guys to approach. Spontaneously, everyone huddled around Viktor and he took over the keynote, taking out and unfolding a map.
“Here we go again. Three of you will follow Salle now when he brings the scooters and you drive your car after him up to the Marine Services dock. There you will unload the scooters into the sea and there you will be waiting for my call when to start off. Be ready to get going as soon as I call you, approximately about three in the afternoon. As soon as you leave the beach, you take the direction straight toward the high seas, and when we meet in the offing, we convey to your scooters and dash off back to the beach at Viviers du Pilon. You leave us at the beach and you return on the scooters back to the Marine Service. You leave the scooters there, then take your car to the right on the D98A highway, then at the intersection again to the right, then just straight via the D559 highway to Nice. Just follow the signs for Nice and you will have no problems. You have brief road instructions in your phones that will be provided as the only message in the inbox. Do not rush, there are about one hundred kilometers to Nice, obey the traffic signs. If there are police patrols, remember, we are tourists from the cruiser who enjoy cruising the Cote d’Azur. We all end up meeting, here again, we leave our cars and board on the cruiser and we continue our journey to Florence where we part our ways. Is everything clear to everyone?”
“Which are our three rental cars?” Jolly asked.
“These three white Peugeots,” Jacqueline said, pointing toward the parking lot.
“Are they from different agencies?” Victor asked with a serious look on his face.
“Yes, as you said. Different agencies, little white urban cars that don’t attract attention.”
“And where are the wigs and shirts?”
“In the middle one, which I drive.”
“Bravo Jacquie,” Victor praised her.
“Okay, nothing to wait for. Salle arrives around noon with the boat and the scooters. We should wait for him at the De Paris Hotel parking lot,” Jolly said and headed for the Peugeot first.
They dispersed and hid still in the vicinity of Saint Tropez, avoiding the city center itself. Just before noon, Salle showed up in the parking lot of the De Paris Hotel, driving a small truck loaded with the scooters and a towed trailer with a boat attached. Victor and Jolly, sitting unobtrusively nearby, crossed the road to greet him.
" Good to see you, host-Salle!” Jolly exclaimed. “Did everything pass all right?”
“All right, bro.”
“Nice! Are the serial numbers erased?”
“Erased, as agreed!” Salle retorted.
“Bleaching, the board?” Jolly asked.
“Two full canisters of bleach, the toothed board with a slot to wedge the steering wheel, its length from the seat to the steering wheel, just like you said.”
“Perfect! Follow us, three white Peugeots. First, we’ll launch the speedboat and leave it at the dock, then we’ll convey the scooters to the Marine Service and then you’re free as far as we’re concerned.”
Without much talk, they worked quickly and as planned. Within an hour, all four vessels were unloaded and ready. Out of the two cars with the guys riding, they left one in the parking lot of the Viviers du Pilon restaurant, while the other car went to the other end of Saint Tropez where scooters were waiting for them. Victor and Jolly joined Jacqueline in her car, and also went there. When everything was ready, one of the guys got into the car with Jacqueline, Victor, and Jolly, and four of them headed for the downtown.
“Ok, honey, drive the shooters to the battle!” Jolly exclaimed, full of energy with which he infected the others too.
Jacqueline noticed that Victor did not get out of the car.
“Wait! Aren’t you riding the scooter today?” she asked Victor, looking over her shoulder.
“Our boy is getting some action today, there was a change of the plan,” Jolly said laughing.
“Oh well!! The little one is killing the unicorn today. Well, congrats!” Jacqueline yelled solemnly, making everyone in the car laugh while gearing up and including the car into traffic. “Well, I have one song for our hero, I’ve just listened to it.”
Soon, powerful guitar chords along with the lyrics burst into the car, with Jacqueline crooning quite loud along with the singer.
It has to start somewhere. It has to start sometime.
What better place than here. What better time than now?
“Whoa, Jacquie, Raaage!” Jolly exclaimed, shaking his head, and soon Victor joined them, as the other guy watched the scene confused, only to join Jolly’s performance himself at last.
Jacqueline drove slowly, obeying the traffic signs, not rushing to the Julien Jewelry on the Main Square. During that time, the guys were changing their clothes, putting on wide Hawaiian shirts and wigs on their heads, taking them out of the bag Jacqueline had packed for them. In the large side pockets on cargo shorts, they put hammers with a reinforced diamond tip, as well as plastic guns. Taking out their backpacks, they emptied the big white bag. Each one flipped the backpack over their shoulders, hoping that soon they will be overfull of the loot from the jewelry store.
Jacqueline glanced at the guys and nodded in satisfaction.
“Perfect, real tourists from a cruiser,” she said proudly, then pressed the accelerator pedal.
A few minutes before 3 pm they were ready. Jacqueline stopped the car at the corner of the intersection near the city museum, lighting all four flashers.
“Okay, here we are! Good luck guys! See you at the beach in about twenty minutes!”
“Bye, Jacquie!” Jolly greeted her, and they went outside, watching Jacqueline disappear into the traffic like the wind.
Victor pulled out his cell phone and pressed the speed dial button.
“Turn on the scooters, guys. We’ll call you back soon,” he said, and he didn’t wait for an answer.
They walked slowly and patiently, mingling with the crowd in the streets under the hot summer sun. Their shirts and appearance were just as common as in hundreds of others in the streets. Seeing a few men dressed the same way, Victor calmed down a bit, restraining the adrenaline pumping through his veins as the most powerful drug.
Julien Jewelry store was located right by the coast and the tourist-thronged broadwalk. At lunchtime, and that of coffee and deserts, the balconies were full of life as waiters hovered around tables like bees around flowers.
All three quickly put on colorless gloves in a small alley, then walked quietly into the jewelry store just like common people, and as soon as they have taken positions, Victor pulled the gun replica out of his pocket and shouted words that no salesman or saleswoman wants to hear in their professional life.
“LIE DOWN! LOOK ON THE FLOOR!” Viktor shouted, pointing his gun at the only two saleswomen in the shop, who looked at him with horror in their eyes, and after his repeated threat, in fear for their own lives they knelt, trembling and lay down completely on the floor of the jewelry store.
“HANDS ON NAPE TO SEE THEM! DON’T MOVE!” Victor shrieked.
All at once, Jolly and the other guy were banging the shop shelves’ windows, snatching precious stones and pieces of jewelry, and thrusting them in their backpacks.
To Victor, it seemed like an eternity, though not even a minute and a half have passed before they found themselves in the street again, disappearing into the throng of tourists dressed in colorful flower-patterned shirts like theirs. Behind their back, the alarm reverberated earsplittingly. While many passers-by turned their heads curiously and stopped, three of them marched at a brisk pace to the dock and the docked boat.
Jolly jumped into the boat first, starting it instantly, as Victor untied the ropes.
“Can we?” Jolly yelled.
“Run!” Victor replied, glancing at the third guy sitting in the boat and holding their backpacks tightly.
He took out his cell phone and ordered the guys with scooters to start off.
Jolly did not rush through the harbor on purpose because he did not want to attract the attention of either tourists or anybody from the harbor office, but as soon as he reached the offing, he throttled to the end and the boat flew at full force across the surges, crushing them on their way toward the open seas.
Taking the pre-arranged direction, soon the coast disappeared from sight, and Jolly throttled down as soon as he spotted the scooters waiting for them offshore.
Jolly made a semicircular turn to the right, posing the boat in a normal position to the shore visible at a distance on the right. In front of himself, he could only see the blueness and the high seas. Without a word, they took off their cargo shorts, as well as the shirts and wigs which they stuffed into the left cargo pockets, while they stuffed gloves from their hands, phones, hammers, and the pistol into the right pockets, buttoning the pockets. They threw the weighted shorts into the sea, watching them sink safely to the bottom of the Mediterranean, while they changed their clothes quickly. The guy with the backpacks transited to the scooter, while Victor wedged the wheel with the already prepared board, made for that particular purpose. Jolly grabbed the canisters of bleach and started sprinkling all over the boat. Victor checked the board once again to make sure it was stuck firmly from the seat to the steering wheel before motioning to Jolly to transit himself.
The scooters pushed away from the boat, as Victor passed over to the outside of the boat, keeping his hand on the throttle lever. He took a deep breath, concentrating on the next steps he had to take. Catching air into his lungs, he pushed the lever all the way, and with the first sounds of the unleashed engine power, Victor propelled himself into the sea.
When he emerged a couple of seconds later, the boat was already beating the surges at a distance. The guy on the third scooter approached him to pick him up and extended his hand to help him climb up. Victor gripped him tightly as their scooter chased the others across the waves.
Looking over the guy’s shoulder, Victor saw Jacqueline waiting for them at a small dock just behind the ridge below the Viviers du Pilon restaurant. All three scooters slowed down as they approached the coast, making a semicircle to the left. Jolly jumped off the scooter right away, getting on the dock and handing over the backpacks to Jacqueline, who immediately stacked them in her large white bag. Victor stopped, still wet, to repeat the instructions.
“Guys, you’re heading left along the shore back to the Marine Service at Ahmed’s place. Leave the scooters there, then join the D98A highway by car. Just keep right, then right again at the first intersection to the exit onto the D559 highway for Nice. We are meeting in Villefranche Sur Mer, it is marked as Port de la Sante on some signs along the road, the same shit. As soon as we meet, we will return the cars to the agency and board the cruiser. If the cops stop you, remember, we’re tourists from a cruiser enjoying the Cote d’Azur, okay?”
The guys nodded, still under adrenaline.
“OK! Good luck!” he said and jumped on the dock, hurrying to catch up with Jolly.
He heard the sounds of the scooters and glanced over his shoulder once more, watching the guys disappear in the great blueness.
Wet still, he jumped into the passenger seat as Jolly throttled up.
“Is Jacqueline gone yet?”
“She is, with her car, to hand the booty over.”
“Perfect. So we just pick her up and get to the cruiser and may everything go to fucking burning hell,” Victor said, lowering the window.
“Don’t worry. How do you say it? Just relaxed,” Jolly said, and they both burst out laughing.
* * *
That they around noon, all fancied up, Dora left room 245 of the La Mouilage Hotel. She had her coffee in peace, catching the eye of all men at the hotel balcony. Then she headed to the reception desk.
“Good afternoon,” she greeted politely with a smile.
“Good afternoon, madam, what can I do for you,” the receptionist replied kindly, recognizing the guest.
“Yesterday I booked a parking spot for a rental car that will be delivered to me today. I just wanted to check if a place was booked inside the hotel’s internal parking lot.”
The receptionist looked at the monitor, typing quickly on the keyboard.
“That’s right, madam, a place was booked. The night shift colleague confirmed the booking,” he said kindly, remembering the colleague speaking nicely of the attractive guest from room 245 who always leaves big tips.
“You’re very kind,” Dora said, leaving a $20 bill on the reception desk, which disappeared in the hands of the smiling receptionist.
She looked at her watch and saw that it was only one o’clock in the afternoon. She decided to take a break for a while, then she returned to the restaurant balcony, ordering only a smoked salmon salad. She was too nervous about the lookout to be particularly hungry. She looked at her watch to realize it was about half-past three, and she saw Jacqueline entering the balcony. Jacqueline walked right past her table, stealing a glance at her, and disappearing from view as quickly as she appeared. Dora knew it was a call for action. Dora paid the bill and headed out of the balcony.
She tried to keep composure and calm pace, but as she approached the white Peugeot in the outer parking lot, her heart fluttered, then went on thumping and getting her breathless. She passed by the car and opened the driver’s door. She found the key in the compartment and started the car, and brought it into the inner parking lot, where the reserved parking space awaited. She switched off the car and opened the trunk and pulled out the large leather bag. She had to harness every atom of her strength to control her excitement. Drops of cold sweat broke out on her forehead at the very thought of the contents she carried casually on her shoulder.
Arriving at the room, she took the DO NOT DISTURB sign and hung it on the outer lock. Laying the white bag on the bed, she pulled out her toolbox from her suitcase and placed it on the small office desk. She took a bottle of cooled white wine from the small refrigerator and poured a glass. She took quite a swig before taking the first backpack out of the white bag.
Pressing the small radio button, sounds of light jazz music from local radio filled the room. Crooning lightly the radio tunes, she took the tool in her hand and plucked the first diamond from the first piece of jewelry. She turned around and looked at the bag contents and sighed slightly, realizing how big the work was ahead.
While Dora was handling diamonds, Jacqueline waited patiently in front of the main hotel entrance. The moment the white Peugeot came into view took a huge load off her mind. The Peugeot stopped right in front of her and without a word she slid into the back seat, joyous as a little kid.
“What’s up guys? Are we now finally going to that cruise, huh?”
“We are, Jacquie, come on in!” the guys shouted both in one voice, madly cheerful.
They spent two days on the cruiser, enjoying the landscape and constant intoxication, delighted to have been able to bring such a difficult job to an end.
In Florence, they were among the first ones to leave the ship and everyone greeted each other warmly before parting at the terminal. Jacqueline among the two friends hand in hand walked to a cab.
More than eager to continue hanging out, that evening, after a rich meal at a restaurant, they ended up at the largest club in Florence downtown where a Ladies’ Night party was taking place. Hundreds of inebriated and provocatively dressed girls twisted to the rhythm of the music, enjoying the benefits of free alcohol in various cocktails. Jacqueline, with her provocative dance moves, did not lag far behind the younger female club clientele. Jolly wouldn’t let himself be baffled, dancing with several girls at once, pouring them champagne from a large bottle, acting like a drunken billionaire. Out of sheer wantonness that VIP booth afforded him, he would take ice from the champagne kibble, rubbing it on the girls’ breasts who laughed and did not mind his behavior at all, finding it charming.
In an overfull disco, there was hardly any breathing space, the atmosphere was more than hot, and the audience sang old songs that the DJ mixed with hot new hits. The DJ would incite the movement of the crowd, inviting them over the microphone from time to time: “COME ON, HANDS IN THE AIR …"
“Whoa, DJ! That’s what we say at work too: hands up in the air! Hahaha!” Jolly laughed, pouring everyone a drink.
Victor watched it all from the comfort of the booth enjoying a cigarette and here and then palling up with a glass full of the most expensive whiskey. The music rhythm and bass would make the atmosphere incandescent, but he seemed to overlook it, sitting at peace as if in the middle of a church mass. The body was present, but his thoughts were captivated by the looks of the two saleswomen the other day. He couldn’t get rid of their looks, despite the liters of whiskey he had drunk these days. That look was more than familiar to him, the look of a human being when faced with death. The very fact that he was the one to introduce them to the idea of death twitched and trampled his conscience relentlessly.
The voice roused him out of his deep thoughts, and he finally noticed Jolly getting in his face.
“What’re you so thoughtful for? Come on, help your brother with the chicks! There are too many of them for me alone,” Jolly shouted, outvoicing with the music.
“Let me be, brother! I’m resting for a while!”
Jolly peered into his eyes seriously and sat down beside him.
“What’s troubling my brother? Tell me!”
Victor took a deep breath, feeling the weight on his soul.
“I watch these young girls dance and I can’t help remembering those two saleswomen and their horrified looks when I pointed a gun at them! My conscience is agonizing me…”
“How come? Well, the gun wasn’t real!” Jolly exclaimed.
“Yes, but they didn’t know it! I’ve fucked them up for life! It will never be the same again for them! I know it! Because I’ve looked death in the eye too!”
“You feel sorry for them?” Jolly asked, raising his eyebrows.
“Yes, I feel sorry for them,” he said, extinguishing his cigarette and taking his glass.
“Look brother, let Jolly explain something to you,” he said, hugging him fatherly. “You’re all too much sensitive and I understand that because you just popped the cherry, but let your brother tell you something. You know I’ve spent quite some time in prisons and there aren’t many ways to have fun there. Either you spend time with those ruffians in there, talk nonsense, and engage in meaningless prison conflicts, or … you can read. For the most part, I read, mostly history, and in those books, I found a lot of interesting information. For example, do you know how all these Western countries got their wealth?” Jolly paused for effect, then went on. “By pillage! By ruthless pillage, bro! Venice, when it finally enslaved Byzantium, entered Constantinople and plundered all its treasure! In 1799, the French plundered Egypt and filled the Louvre with that treasure! And let me not speak about the British Empire! That queen bitch has the world’s largest ruby embedded in her crown and it’s not been bought but seized from India!” Jolly said all in one breath, excited. " This very same France, where we did the job the other day, even nowadays racketeers African countries for hundreds of millions of dollars a year. And why? Just because they built them the infrastructure while enslaving them, killing them, and eventually colonizing them! And here’s Belgium! Belgium’s most magnificent king Leopold killed millions of Congolese people, but no one mentions him in the rank of Hitler and Stalin! No, they glorify him, magnify him and praise him even today, even though he built an empire on the slave labor of Africans. And not to mention Germany! The entire much-praised and most developed German industry is built thanks to the work, raw materials, and the wealth of the Jews, and experiments over them and other concentration camp prisoners in World War II. And the main patrons of those crimes were their economic giants whose products we use even today. One fucking Switzerland, which kept child slavery legal until thirty years ago and also has appropriated the entire Nazis’ robbed treasure, while today it plays dumb to have abducted that treasure, then the English, Spanish, Portuguese or Turkish colonization, pillage, and plunder of global proportions, my brother. Russians did it too in eastern Europe or Afghanistan or Siberia, and China is progressing from the other end, whatever! Now we have maybe the most powerful empire in the history, the American empire that conquers global territories to seize resources for its military-industrial complex with the collateral foisting wars, subverting governments, and when it’s not without a hitch, then the Trojan-horse of humanitarian military intervention rams in, bringing ‘freedom’, as done in my homeland and yours. How many times have all those conquerors only destroyed and plundered our homeland, the damn motherfuckers! All the power and the magnitude of that fine and rotten West, my brother, was built on pillage, destruction, and killing of millions of people. Real looters, bro, nowadays wear those fancy high-style suits that we were boosting and fencing together, which cost a couple of thousand Euros, and those same shitheads, those same thieves, sit on corporate boards and in governments!”
The girls started shouting for Jolly, inviting him to rejoin them, but he ignored them as if they didn’t exist. “They looted and seized, and raped, my brother. Millions of people were plagued and zillions in material wealth were looted. And what have we done? We took a couple of crummy diamonds,” he said, chuckling, and he finished his presentation as he got up to head for the girls who were calling him: “And something else! We don’t rape! These bitches volunteer themselves to us!”
He managed to make him laugh and with a slight nudge, Victor got up with him and joined the turned on bimbos on the dance floor.
Later that night they walked desolate streets of Florence, drunk and in good spirits. Victor tried to walk straight, but every third step would reel him aside.
“What about Florence?” Jolly asked as he clumsily pulled out his cigarette.
“Well, every step has its history. Every corner, house, the alley has a story, man.”
“You are trippin’,” Jacqueline laughed.
“Interestingly, when a man is drunk…” Jolly paused to light a cigarette, “…he sees everything through someone else’s eyes.”
“Well, fuck it,” Victor exclaimed. “Exactly! We are walking in somebody’s footsteps!” he paused, seeing a neon advertisement and his face lit up. “Hey! Stop! Let’s get tattoos!”
Victor stared at the nude art in a shop window, admiring seductiveness of a pretty naked tattooed girl, who subtly covered her breasts and genitals with her hands. He couldn’t take his eyes off her, he was so captivated by her attractiveness.
“Let’s go inside!”
“Piss off, you fool!” Jolly protested, wishing they were gone as soon as possible.
“Come on, don’t be a pussy!” Victor hugged him. “Let’s go and mark our friendship with a tattoo! All three of us! Are we a fucking team or not?!” he yelled again as he embraced Jacqueline around her shoulders with his other hand. “Let’s record this night and the fucking crazy job we did! Let’s go!”
Jolly frowned first and then laughed heartily, and Jacqueline joined, looking at Victor who had already opened the studio door.
The size of the studio stunned them, as did the loud music that blared.
Victor marveled at the hundreds of art drawings hung on the walls. He turned to ask Jolly something, but the young boy with a tattooed neck appeared before him.
“Good evening to you, mate!” Victor replied. “Is this a tattoo parlor or a dance club?”
“Both,” the tattooed guy said with a smile. “Why not having fun with the job you love?”
“An ideal combination!” Victor nodded.
“That’s right, brother! We like to have fun while we work too!” Jolly added, listening to Jacqueline’s laughter behind his back.
“Can my buddies and I do one quick tattoo each?”
“It depends on the size and complexity of the tattoo whether it will be quick, but yes, we are masters of our craft! Do you have anything in mind or you want to look at the catalog?”
Victor shrugged. “I have no idea,” he said, looking pensively into the drawings. “Can it be something like heart and cross, like intertwined? Kind of like faith and love,” he said, turning his back on the guy. “What do you say, Jacquie?”
“I can have a heart and cross, but around a little pink panther,” she said, all excited.
“Wow, yes! Bravo! A little pink panther inevitably!”
“For me, a panther and a heart will do, but I’m not interested in the cross,” Jolly said, joining the debate.
“Okay, the lady is going to another room with a colleague, and you gentlemen, please come here,” said one of the workers, coming up from behind the counter.
Jolly and Viktor followed the two tattoo masters who indicated them to relax in long professional chairs.
“Sorry brother, I forgot you were an atheist,” Victor apologized.
“I’m not an atheist, but I’m not a believer either, no worries.”
Victor released his right hip before relaxing in the comfortable seat.
“Here, if you can do it on the right hip, here where the muscle begins. So that the tattoo is not visible when I strip off in shorts,” Victor said, explaining to the tattoo artist where to begin.
“Good idea, fuck” Jolly said, showing the same location as his friend did.
The artists put on white latex gloves and set about prepping for work.
“I simply don’t believe in that church crap,” Jolly continued, explaining. “All these stories are like, God made us, created Adam and made him a wife from his rib, then they fucked there, multiplied, whatever. It turns out that we are a result of a great fucking hell of incest.”
“Well, I can’t say I’m a great believer myself. I don’t believe either in an old man sitting on a cloud and cranking out people from ribs. I also don’t like priests, but I have to say that I believe in something, in some force, in some common energy of the universe. It’s even harder to dismiss just like that such a thousand-year-old tradition,” Victor said all in one breath, settling more comfortably on his left hip as he tucked his left palm under his head.
“What tradition?” Jolly frowned.
“Well, ours, the lovely tradition. My ancestors were bleeding for that faith, fighting to preserve it. Who am I to just dismiss it?”
“Aaah, that!” Jolly said, putting his hands under his head, completely relaxing in his chair. “Say frankly, you can’t dismiss it for that cockiness crap.”
“What cockiness crap, Jolly?”
“Brother, when you just view it all a little bit more realistically, our tradition comes down but to one long, a-thousand-years lasting showing-off cockiness! We were a bunch of happy pagans who made our house in the middle of the road in the best geostrategic location in Europe, and then we took Orthodox Christianity as a religion and acted cocky against far more powerful invaders and so throughout our history. Only over the last several centuries… when the Turks were traversing here! Instead of letting them slaughter with the pope and the Catholics, we crossed their way and said cockily, You shall pass no further, Murat! And by then Murat didn’t give a fucking damn about us, so he got mad like hell and those motherfuckers were fucking us to hell and back for the whole next five centuries. So, just as we got rid of the Turks after 500 years, here’s the Austrian empire from the other side. Meet the new evil, same as the old evil. And then, we kept the same cockiness with the Austrians too, You shall not go any further, we kill their heir to the throne, and in turn, they screw up the people, burn the country, millions got killed, millions crippled. So, we barely got out of that shit, well, there comes the Kraut, Adolf the Little, who practically conquered all of Europe without firing a bullet, but instead of preserving that few of the people have remained after centuries of the massacre, no, we acted cocky against the Kraut as well, with the slogans ‘Better war than the pact’ or ‘Better grave than a slave’. So we pulled Adolf’s boner, and he fucked us as well. All those historical ‘heroic’ victories that we show off cocky about are ultimately futile. When you take a closer look at the whole history and how many millions of people we lost, while we have never been a nation of hundreds of millions, then you realize how much we were mangled, that is, for a few centuries yet to come with all that human loss.”
“Well, I wouldn’t agree that we were supposed to take our pants off and let us be fucked by every empire that crosses the Balkans,” Victor said with a frown.
“All heroes, one after another! All silly pricks! Though, there were some remnants of the people after all those conquerors, while now, after this last war and the rule of your ‘patriots’, there are our people no more, they are scattered all around Europe, fighting for a crust of bread. And why? Because the country you were bleeding for has been destroyed by those very same ‘patriots’ who led you to those wars, and all other politician scumbags after them, for years,” Jolly exclaimed. “Here, look at yourself. Has anyone acknowledged you for having messed up your health on the battlefield, huh? While I humped girls around Europe, you were losing your health in forests, in hills, slaughtering with your brethren who speak the same language, just because they pray to another God, because they accepted a different religion from some conqueror a long time ago. Who did you fight for and what did you wage war about?” Jolly asked, looking him directly in the eye. “I look at you having trouble sleeping, complaining about your sore bones as if you were seventy years old, and all that due to freezing in dugouts, sleeping in the woods in the rain, and you’re only thirty-three, hey! Thirty-three!” he exclaimed, shaking his head. “What’s that thing that you got in the war field due to dirtiness? That thing about your eyes being constantly red so you have to clean them in the morning?”
“Chronic conjunctivitis,” Victor replied resignedly. “But thank God it wasn’t worse, many didn’t even come back or came back with worse consequences.”
“I thank God that I primarily value and take care of myself, and then so sound and healthy I can and will help others,” Jolly said, with one such smile that he is well-known for, as he slightly raised his right knee to give the tattoo master a better look at his right hip. “Please paint a heart red and a panther to be light pink, but the lightest you can, like this shirt on me.”
They both clammed up, listening to the sounds of the diligent tattoo needle under the rhythm of music from the next room.
Panthers burn out too
Dubai, April 2007
“Good that you’ve called me!”
Jacqueline rushed to join them in the bar soon after Gill’s call, distraught and more than worried about Victor, who looked weak and pale.
“Look at him. He’s paler than this shirt he has on him.”
“I know you said we shouldn’t call you, but you see for yourself that I had to,” Gill began seriously.
“You did the right thing,” she interrupted him in the middle of the sentence. “Victor! My dear! How are you?” she asked, clutching his cheeks. With her right hand, she lifted his head and opened his eyelids, looking at his pupils.
“I feel like just before dying,” Victor whispered.
“What dying! Move yourself to disperse the curse!” she shouted, slapping him lightly on the cheeks.
“How to move, I can’t even move my finger.”
“You’ll be fine! You’ve got a little sunstroke. You don’t have a high temperature, you’re not hot and that’s the most important thing. Guys, let’s get him inside the bar.”
Jumping like panthers, they lifted him between them, they carried him to a leather sofa in a booth, while Jacqueline trotted after them, looking for a chocolate bar in her bag.
“Come on, eat this so we get you some sugar in the blood,” she handed him the chocolate bar and turned to the guys. “One of you, please go to that Lebanese restaurant across the street and get him something to eat, anything with some meat. He must eat something,” she said, looking Victor in the eye. “When was the last time you ate something? Have you had any water at all today?”
“I have. A couple of sips this morning before going out for reconnoitering… I ate some pastries too. Fuck, you know I eat badly when in preps, I’m all focused on the job…”
“Victor, you have to drink a lot more water! The climate here is different! Even when you don’t feel thirsty, you have to drink because the body sweats a lot more in this sun. You need to eat more and sleep better! Did you sleep tonight?”
“For a few hours, you know me. I don’t need much.”
“You burned out,” Jacqueline reprimanded him. “You have to do better in self-care. Who’s going to take care of you when you get sick? You know very well that we have neither pension nor social security,” she said with a smile as she was giving him a sip of juice. She got up and walked over to the waiter, and ordered two squeezed orange juices and two lemonades, which he brought at express speed.
In silence, he sat in a comfortable booth, feeling the sweet liquid of natural juice. He closed his eyes, feeling her soft angelic hands touching him, inhaling her stunning scents. In an instant he felt much better, coddled like a child.
“Remember what those flight attendants always say before a plane takes off, that in case of a plane crash, you have to put your oxygen mask to yourself first and only then to someone next to you?” she asked, looking into his tired, closed eyes. “You have to look after yourself so God will guard you then,” she said, taking a handkerchief from her bag, soaking it in water before wiping his forehead.
Gill stormed to the bar like a hurricane, carrying a plastic bag with a Lebanese restaurant logo in each hand. He flopped on right next to Victor, taking out the food in white plastic.
“Here bro, I took some mixed meat with some of their pies and sauce.”
“Come on, make sure you eat this. After that, we’ll take you to the flat to take some rest. Now when you eat, you’ll feel better right away,” Jacqueline said in an encouraging tone.
He opened his eyes and dug into the food. Although the organism rebelled at first, he felt his appetite begin to awaken, to everyone’s satisfaction. He wasn’t aware of how much his body needed food. His strength was somewhat restored and he decided to go straight to the apartment. Jacqueline went to her apartment, though she opposed Victor’s decision. Despite the difficulties, they had to obey the rules. Gill gave her his word that he would call her at once if there were any complications and they left her somewhat calmed in the parking lot.
“Gill, take us to the flat and turn on the air condition, it feels all right, man,” Victor said in a frail voice.
“We’re getting to the flat now, bro. We’ll be there in a moment.”
In the cooled apartment, he felt somewhat better and more vibrant, although the feebleness was still present in his muscles. He somehow managed to take a shower before collapsing into bed. Fatigue had overcome him, but the recuperating slumber failed. In the hypnagogic dream, all thoughts and worries were flustered, intertwining the past with the present. He dreamed of both Jolly and Green, former guys from former jobs, ex-girlfriends, all confounded for him and he no longer knew what a dream or wake was. Only before dawn, at about four in the morning, was he able to fall firmly asleep and sleep in peace.
* * *
“Victor. Brother. How’re you feeling?” a familiar voice echoed at distance and, before opening his eyes, he recognized Gill’s worried voice.
“I feel like shit… like I was run over by a train,” he maundered arduously.
“What are we gonna do? Wanna see a doctor?”
“No, no way. We have our hands full of work to do.”
“You worry me, my brother. You were sleep talking tonight, and you had a fever. You were burning at moments.”
Victor finally opened his eyes.
“Wait, what did you do, spend the night keeping watch for me?”
“Of course. I won’t let a friend down, will I? I had a phone at hand. If the worst had threatened, I would have called both ambulance and Jacqueline. Fuck business, fuck everything.”
“Gill, my brother, don’t you worry. I’m not yet going to the other world,” he said with a gentle laugh, trying to get out of bed. “What time is it after all?”
“Nine in the morning.”
“I’ll have to call Jacqueline to come and pick me up. We have to make the final preps, we have little time left.”
“Do you want coffee? There it is, cooked.”
“No coffee for me. I’m going to get myself ready, and in the meantime, you take my phone and call Jacqueline, to come and get us around eleven.”
“OK. Go to the bathroom, take a shower, maybe it’ll do you good.”
Some minutes before eleven o’clock, Jacqueline appeared in the car. In the back seat, a white, plastic, fruit-filled bag caught their attention.
“Hi, Jacquie!” Victor replied, sitting next to her. “What’s the fruit behind for?”
“For you, to recover as soon as possible. Hi Gill.”
“Hi, gorgeous!” Gill greeted from the backseat, took the bag, pulling out two tangerines.
“I’m not a fruit fan.”
“Nah, you have to eat,” Jacqueline said in a worried voice. “How’re you feeling?”
“It’s not bad, it’s good.”
“You don’t look exactly good to me. Did you sleep at all?”
“So-so,” he nodded and looked at her with a mild smile. “I’ll be fine, it will pass. Everything passes, so will this. Well, did you bring the Audi back to the rental car agency?”
“I did,” she answered readily. “I checked for another. Both are in the same place, black and white.”
“Perfect. Drive to the Wafi Center now, so we can go around again.”
He forced himself to eat the peeled tangerine although he didn’t like the sour taste of the fruit. While Jacqueline drove to the Wafi Center, he ate as much as two tangerines. For a moment he had an impression she deliberately slowed down driving, only to leave more time for him to eat as much fruit as possible. As they left the car in the parking lot, Victor got out of the car and felt weakness in his legs. He was angry with himself and the body that betrays him like that when he needs it most.
“Are you able?” Gill asked him, standing behind him.
“I am. Let’s go for a walk to the jewelry store.”
At a snail’s pace, they made a circle around the Wafi Center, while Victor felt like he was hovering. He knew his options were very limited, but just one look at the jewelry store enticed his desire to work the job off.
“Can you?” she asked in a sweet voice.
“When did you think of us going into action?”
Victor cast a glance at them.
“What do you mean tonight?” Jacqueline was struck dumb.
“Bro, you’re barely standing on your feet,” Gill joined.
“We must not wait any longer,” he raised his tone. “What if I get worse? What if I languish even more tomorrow? I have a getting-away combination that expires the day after tomorrow. If all is well with the Audis today, then we’re attacking right then.”
“Victor,” Jacqueline began carefully. “How do you think to run from the store to the parking lot after the attack? Come on, please, take a look in the mirror.”
Victor paused before leaving and once again turned to the jewelry store. A slight smile appeared on his face until it turned into a chuckle.
“Maybe I won’t have to run at all,” he said significantly, seeing Jacqueline and Gill only exchanging glances in wonder.
As they drove back to the apartment, Victor decided to execute his plan and turned slightly to Gill.
“Prepare the guys, we’re going out tonight to do the job. You know what needs to be done.”
Gill just nodded, taking a deep breath.
Last preps for Dubai job
On the same day, April 15, 2007, in the early evening hour, when everyone got into Jacqueline’s car, Victor gave the last instructions while Jacqueline was chasing the fastest way out of town.
“This is it, guys,” Victor began, turning on his seat. “Let’s go get the cars for the action now. We are going to take two Audi S8s because we have this digital tool for VW group cars that perfectly starts Audi engines, Gill has already successfully done it. Jacqueline is now driving us to a rent-a-car agency in the neighboring emirate of Abu Dhabi and she’s showing us where they are parked. When we take them, we head back across the fictitious boundary line to Dubai. There’s no control between the emirates, it’s like moving from one city to another. So while we are getting the jewelry store done, she will in the meantime drive the rental car for escape at an agreed-upon location in the Za’abeel residential area. After the action, she will take us to the apartment, where I will give you two airline tickets and the rest of your pay. You will take a taxi and head straight to the airport, while Gill, Jacqueline, and I are moving further with our exit combinations. Once again, in the apartment, we part ways and see each other in the homeland, and now we go for the Audis. Any questions or concerns?”
Gill and the guys looked at each other, nodding.
“It’s all clear, bro,” Gill said with a serious face.
“Everything is as clear as day!” Doolle exclaimed, rubbing his hands in excitement. “Alright, I can’t wait for us to finish this job so I can head straight to Bari!”
“Do you have a chick in Bari?” Gill asked, smiling. “Why haven’t you boasted about her so far? Is she ours or an Italian?”
“Not talking about a woman, man!” Doolle waved off. “We go to celebrate the anniversary! We gather in Bari every year!”
“Anniversary of what?” Victor asked, trying to kill his nervousness.
“How come, of what?” Doolle asked angrily. “Which biggest feast of our sport happened in Bari?!”
“Ah, that!” Victor said resignedly. “I don’t know what’s there to be celebrated,” he said, poking him.
“How come, nothing to celebrate! Champions Cup Winners! European Football Champions!”
“Nothing, bravo for the title, but you have no reason to celebrate. You played like a bunch of cunts,” Victor continued coldly to make Dule angry. “What a shame, fuck, such a team that knocked Bayern Munich in the semifinals, ultimately in the finals, they didn’t cross the center, they played like the biggest cunts!”
“What cunts are you talking about, fuck!” Doolle burst out in anger. “That was a tactic! Strategic defensive play! After all, you Partizan fans may shut up, you never won anything, so you always bark like dogs as soon as Bari is mentioned.”
“Why, we played the Champions Cup final twenty years before you did!” Victor again turned back in his seat. “And we played it ballsy, fighting, offensive-like! That’s how we got to the finals! Like lions! And in the finals, we attacked Real Madrid, biting like wolves! We led 1-0 in the first half!” Victor said in one breath, all irate.
“And then what happened in the other half? 2:1 for Real! Like fuck!” Doolle exclaimed triumphantly, winking at him.
“The greatest referee fraud in football history! They rigged it in favor of Real, that fuckin’ royal club!”
“Guys! Enough! What the fuck is wrong with you! Save that energy for tonight when pounding the jewelry store windows!”Jacqueline yelled, interrupting the discussion. “We’re close, put on those uniforms in the bag behind my seat!”
The guys clammed up and Gill opened the bag, taking out vests and caps with the car rental agency’s embroidered logo. Wearing vests, the guys were no different than the agency staff.
After less than an hour’s drive, Jacqueline stopped and switched off the car across the street from the rental agency. Everything was quiet. Looking at the agency across the street, they realized that it was closed. Victor looked for Audis’ location and noticed them to the right of the entrance.
“Jacquie, you watch the main entrance of the parking lot so that some car doesn’t come by. Doolle, you go left in the parking lot and watch out, Bolle you go right and watch out! Understood? Let’s go!” Victor briskly got out of the car, as did the guys in the back seat. They crossed the street quickly and just as they approached the parking lot, a small group of people came out of a building. Victor was shock-stricken and he instinctively pushed Gill behind a concrete pillar. He quickly dropped the tool bag to the floor and pretended to be looking for something in the toolbox.
“How the hell have these motherfuckers come,” Victor hissed. He was relieved to see two women and a man, along with a male child, turn right toward a large black Ford SUV. The heated argument among them reduced their power of observation.
“What are they shouting so much for?” Gill whispered.
“Fuck it. But obviously, they don’t like each other very much,” Victor said, watching the older woman get in the face of the younger one, while a man in his seventies watched it all, apparently losing patience.
“The last thing we need is them beating each other and the cops coming,” Gill observed.
“Where are these jinxes coming from… now…,” Victor whispered, peeking behind the pillar in their direction.
The battle took place about a parking lot between the two wives of an approximately 70-year-old man, one woman of darker skin and the other of lighter skin, apparently originating from different regions, who were arguing in English.
The older woman screamed, “You’re going to jail for threatening to set my car on fire.”
“Am I?” the younger woman retorted brazenly, waving her finger high in the air. “The Court summoned you and him, NOT me, for physical assault, verbal abuse, and threatening against me… against ME!”
“We live in the same villa, so it is my parking lot too… you caused the fight around the parking spot in front of the villa… then played stupid when the police arrived and played the victim… Why didn’t you again threaten in front of the police that you would set my car fire if I didn’t move it from the parking spot?” the older woman continued, getting in her face. “I was in my part of the villa when you came and threatened me. My son was present when you threatened me.”
Her son then confirmed her statement. “Dad… She said she would set our car on fire if my mother didn’t move it from the parking lot. She also told her that she would set the house on fire if she didn’t leave it.”
The husband grabbed the little boy’s shoulders and shouted, “Enough! You’re fighting over my back, I am accused of physically assaulting and insulting a woman. Piss off into the car… EVERYONE!”
So the man, though aged and visibly weaker, continued yelling at the women, urging them along toward the Ford, grabbing the young son’s arm. Entering the car, they started arguing again at the door open. Moments later, the parking lot fell silent as only the sound of the Ford engine could be heard rushing out of the parking lot.
“Poor man. With one woman, God may help us, but he lives with two dragons in the house, I fuckin’ don’t get it,’ Gill said with a marked relief in his voice.
“Let’s do our job. Let him and his wives fuck themselves,” Victor said.
They quietly approached the white Audi and Gill immediately took the tool from his bag. Using a special wrench, he managed to open the door while Victor looked around the parking lot. He watched the guys keeping a vigilant eye and he was glad to see it.
It took him less than a minute to start the Audi. His face lit up as a child’s when receiving a present.
“Heck, Gill, if you had no ears you would laugh around your head,” Victor said jokingly to kill the stress and called one of the guys to take over the Audi. The guys ran up to them and jumped into the car, driving slowly toward the exit of the parking lot while Gill worked on the black Audi. As soon as he started it, Victor sat in the passenger seat and Gill slowly moved it following the guys in the white Audi.
Jacqueline started the car and the lights and went out in front of them as soon as she saw them exiting the parking lot, driving slowly and observing the traffic signs. They kept a moderate distance while driving slightly below the allowed speed.
“The last thing we need now is to race and draw attention,” Victor said, turning on the cooling in the car.
“We’re going to the construction site, right?” Gill asked.
“Yes, just follow her and the white Audi. That’s an abandoned and unlit piece of land in Za’abeel residential district. It’s located as you can see between the two palaces in the Za’abeel area. If you didn’t know, we’re just minutes away from the royal palace of the local ruler of this emirate.” Victor glanced at him. “Are you getting nervous?”
“No. Just asking. Brother, are you gonna be ok?”
“It’s going to be okay, Gill. Just take it easy,” he said, tapping him on the shoulder.
Jacqueline led the group and just before the settlement of Za’abeel, she exited the highway and entered the construction site. Not a minute later, both Audis stopped right next to her.
Victor stretched getting out of the car and walked toward a nearby pile of bricks.
“Ok, guys. We don’t have much time. Let’s load these bricks into the trunk of the black Audi,” Victor said.
Everyone looked at him as if he had gone mad, which did not offend him since he did not even explain his plan in its entirety.
“We’re not going to attack with bricks!” Bolle said in disbelief. “We have guns, don’t we?”
“Of course, we will not attack with bricks, but we will break something by driving in reverse and these bricks will help. Less talking, more work! Are you gonna help here or am I to load it all by myself?“, Victor said morosely, taking a few bricks at the top. “Gill, open the trunk.”
Gill shrugged. The guys ran and spontaneously formed a chain. They were stacking the trunk with bricks hastily and in silence. Victor didn’t lag behind them, but at the very end, he felt weakness in his legs and stepped out of the chain, leaning on the car. Sense of enervation started overcoming him as it did the other day on the beach, and he began to breathe deeply, hoping he wouldn’t faint. He didn’t know how to suspend vertigo.
An intense reminiscence submerged him of his mother’s telling how he got his name at birth. He was born prematurely due to a uterine infection, his body was too small and too feeble to live, his heartbeat was beating only once in ten seconds, he couldn’t breathe. When they took him out, the doctors just said, “He won’t survive.” They didn’t even bother to help him breathe. They said it would only make his death more agonizing. They gave up on him. The neonatologist at the hospital where he was born confirmed that all indications were against the possibility of little Victor surviving. The doctors allowed the mother to kiss her child goodbye, saying to her, You only have a few minutes. She unwrapped the baby and placed it nude her chest. Tears streamed down her cheeks; Victor’s father was devastated. “I don’t want him to be cold. His little feet are freezing,” the mother said, unrolling and putting him on her bare skin. That hug was all she could give him. What followed, however, surprised doctors and gave parents new hope. The warmth of the mother’s body and the proximity of her heart stimulated the proper functioning of the newborn’s little heart, who began to breathe more normally. The parents couldn’t believe it, and the doctors were amazed. He let out a faint cry. They expected him to die, but he did not give in. His cheeks suddenly turned a healthy color from gray to pink, before their eyes, he grew warmer. Just two hours later, the small phenomenon cried. When he was born, they gave him only 20 minutes to live, and then one hug changed everything. Just four months later, the baby left the maternity ward and came home. He was named Viktor because he was a real little fighter who defeated death, considered a marvel to have stayed alive.
“Brother, are you okay?” Gill worried, hugging him. “If you’re not, let’s put this off for tomorrow,” he said in a pleading voice.
“No, it’s okay. Let’s go according to the plan. I’ll be fine. Just to catch my breath. I’m not going to run or smash. The watch is a piece of cake. You will carry the load tonight, bro,” Victor encouraged him.
As soon as the guys had finished loading, Victor pulled out a map of the mall and spread it out on the hood of the car. The guys, still out of breath, huddled around him.
“Okay, let’s recapitulate once again. It’s nine p.m. The robbery timing is about the end of the business hours as we count that we’ll be able to flee down the E11 superhighway, in the opposite direction from the lane that the police are coming from. The fact that they have to get to the superhighway from their Ibn Al Zahrawi street is not to their advantage as they will get jammed because of the rush-hour. As for the job itself, as you can see, I can’t run. I’m waiting for three of you to do the job outside the store in the white car. The whole operation must not be longer than 120 seconds, you’ll have 60 seconds at the most for the sweeping itself. I’m leading to the main entrance that goes straight to the lobby where the Graff store is. We stop in front of the entrance, I move to the bank aside. Gill gets in reverse. We thrust into the main door to the mall with the cars, first Gill in reverse, then me head-on. Gill rams with utmost force with the rear part and breaks through the door, the heavy brick load will make it easier. The airbag will not open when you crash through in reverse, while the car remains in the perfect position for escape.” He looked at everyone, one after another, and then continued. “I thrust into after him. We pass the main hall and in front of the store, Gill brakes a bit so that you Bolle and Doolle can get out. Now Gill rams strongly into the storefront door. You run inside, threaten the workers with guns. Gill leaves the car engine on, then he runs in and covers the workers, forces them to the floor. Once Gill’s inside each one of you takes one side and moves to sweep the showcases, while Gill cleans the display at the storefront area. When I honk, it’s the retrieval sign. Just in case, Bolle and Doolle get in with me, only Gill gets in the black car and we get away, Gill first, me after him. Gill if you sense just anything wrong with your car, you stop aside anywhere, just anywhere, and burn it down at the spot, then get in with me. If it is ok, we proceed as planned, run along the E66 superhighway, we enter the Za’abeel district by the ENOC pump. Then we come here, get rid of the stuff and set both cars on fire”. He paused, waiting for his words to sit in. “Any questions?”
Everyone shook their heads resolutely.
“Ok, then.” Victor nodded contentedly and walked over to the open trunk of Jacqueline’s car, from where he pulled out a large bag with the equipment. “Here are your coveralls, sneakers, balaclavas, gloves, and glasses. You have three jewelry bags here. Each one of you has one gun and a hammer in it. We only put on our balaclavas in front of the mall. Now we’re putting one bucket of fuel and a lighter in each Audi.”
As everyone got dressed and ready while he was speaking, they grabbed buckets of fuel and carried one to each Audi.
“Jacques, where’s my pretty hair?” Victor asked.
Jacqueline took out a blue wig that Viktor put on his head, looking in the darkened window of the Audi, singing a song: “…Look mother at your handsome boy… Wherever he goes, there the rosemary grows… woo-hoo!”
Before Victor got into the car, he looked at Jacqueline, who just nodded to him, holding a cigarette in her hand and trying to keep her composure, but her eyes were ablaze. He gazed at her for an instant and ran into his car.
As soon as the cars were gone, the nervousness overwhelmed her. It was not just the common thrill about an action. It was that she was worried about Victor. She began to do her own routine of exercise to kill both time and anxiety while waiting for the action to end. It started as always with the Sun Salutation exercises, followed by three exercises in the Warrior 1-2-3 series.
Gill grabbed the steering wheel, feeling his heart pound. He looked at Bolle from aside and Doolle in the rearview mirror, who looked just like him, tense and under pumping adrenaline rush. He stopped in front of the entrance to the Wafi Center, watching Viktor move aside with his white Audi.
“Ok, boys! Ready?” Gill yelled, pulling his balaclava down over his face, as the two of them did too. Bolle just nodded, one hand holding the backpack tightly and the other the car compartment. Doolle was shaking with anticipation and nodded too.
“Let’s rock!” Gill shrieked, shifting into the first gear and making a 180-degree turn with an earsplitting squeal of tires, suddenly shifting in reverse and at full throttle he crashed with his heavy trunk through the main door. The glass shattered into thousands of pieces with a loud bang as if a bomb had exploded.
Gill didn’t even notice it but continued dashing in reverse toward the other hall. He could see Victor following him in the white Audi, noticing the flashes of his lights. Right before the shop, while Gill braked abruptly against the polished floor with creaking tires, and the two guys stormed from the moving car at lightning speed. Victor made a full turn and put the car in the position for easier withdrawal. Gill released the brake and throttled again, bashing his rear into the door and window destroying the main entrance of the shop.
The two guys, each with a balaclava on his head, with a plastic pistol in the right hand and a hammer in the left hand, dashed into the shop and threatened the shocked workers. An instant after them, Gill dashed in and kept pointing the gun at the workers forcing them to the floor. The two guys broke showcases in the interior part of the store and filled their bags with jewels, just as they rehearsed at the cottage. Gill left the workers for a moment and started ripping off the display window in the jewelry storefront, stuffing his backpack. For an instant, the sounds of glass breaking evoked a glimpse of
reminiscence of a mate’s wedding.
Suddenly the sound of the honk from the white Audi, reverberated like a rumble of thunder at the Wafi Center.
As one, all three dashed leaving everything behind them. Gill was the first to get at the steering wheel of the black Audi, right after him the other two also jumped in the white Audi.
Gill was the first to dash out with squeaking tires, Victor right behind him, they flew like lightning out on the road. The raging engines under the hood tore the night air with mighty roaring, as they overtook everything in front of them. As they reached the superhighway, they finally got a chance to step on the throttle and see for themselves the power and speed of the Audis they drove.
“Woo-hoo!!! We nailed it! Fucked them UUP!!” Doolle screamed still adrenaline-fueled.
All three were thrilled about having been able to sweep the famous Graff jewelry store without a bullet fired in such a short time.
“Dude, turn on the cooling, nail it! I’m burning, gonna be hit by a heart attack!” Bolle shouted all ecstatic.
As the guys screamed out of joy in the white Audi, Victor laughed madly with the music turned out loud, gleeful as never before in his life. He couldn’t believe how easy and smoothly they worked off the job. At the ENOC fuel station, he turned sharply toward the Za’abeel residential district, with a black Audi right behind him. At the construction site, he braked abruptly and stopped Audi in the unlit part of the construction site. Before getting out, he turned off the music in the car.
The guys got out of the black Audi and everyone started to strip off their overalls automatically.
“Give her the bags to hide in the trunk! Throw everything into the Audi! Splash everything with gasoline and set it all on fire! I will do the white one, you take the black!”
They splashed everything with gasoline right away and ran into Jacqueline’s car, where she already waited behind the wheel, having concealed their bags in the empty spare tire area in the trunk.
Gill and Victor glimpsed at each other before throwing a lighter into each Audi. Gasoline burst into flames at the very same moment, so, after closing the door on the cars, they both ran into Jacqueline’s car that had started moving even before Gill managed to close his door.
In an ordinary small middle-class urban car, they drove off into the night with loot worth more than Eur 11 million.
When they were already on the superhighway, from the distance Jacqueline looked in the rearview mirror and abruptly reduced speed.
“Guys, we have a problem!”
Victor turned on her remark immediately and saw at a distance that only one car was in flames, that is, the white car.
“Guys, Gill, did you splash gasoline on the inside of your car?” Victor asked tensely.
“We did,” the guys shouted in one voice.
“Gill, did you ignite it, heck?!”
“Of course I did, Victor!” Gill yelled, too. “I saw the flames!”
“Wait!” Jacqueline yelled. “Did you open the car windows before you ignited it?! No fire can flare up if there’s no oxygen!”
There was a silence in the car that could be cut with a knife. In his ears, Victor felt a slight buzz and after a while, he felt his palms sweat.
“Fuck this sult-sultriness,” Gill began to stutter. “And the air condition. We should have turned off the air-conditioning, and opened the fucking windows. Fuck goddamn swelter and Arabs and the desert and…”
“Stop it, Gill, calm down!” Viktor cut him short. “There was enough oxygen to flare as long as to burn down the seats. It will be all right! Just take it easy,” he said, disbelieving his own words.
“That wouldn’t have happened to Jolly,” Jacqueline hissed as for herself, but Victor heard her clearly and couldn’t contradict her.
* * *
They arrived at the parking lot in front of Doolle’s and Bolle’s apartment, all low-spirited. The initial enthusiasm disappeared as wind-blown. Meanwhile, Victor took two yellow folders from the front compartment.
“Here you are guys,” he said, handing Bolle and Doolle a folder each. “Your plane is taking off for Istanbul at half-past two a.m. There you’re going to change planes. The folder contains airline tickets and the other portion of your payment.”
Doolle and Bolle shook hands with Victor and Gill.
“Good luck guys and see you soon! That was an excellent job, regardless of the fail with fire.”
They both shrugged and said goodbye to Jacqueline, who kissed them both on the cheek.
Victor, Jacqueline, and Gill headed for the parking lot exit, leaving the guys to pack up before the travel that awaited them in a couple of hours.
As soon as the rest of the crew left them alone to get ready, Bolle headed for the room and closed the door behind him. Just as he removed his T-shirt, Doolle stormed into the room, agitated. Bolle closed his eyes, angry with himself for not turning the key in the lock.
“What did you mess with the backpack in Audi?” Doolle asked, all upset. “Don’t you think I didn’t see you when you put your hand in your backpack!”
“Come on Doolle, get out and leave me alone,” he said, putting his bag on the bed.
Lifting a T-shirt from the bed, pieces of the brightest jewelry fell on the white sheet.
“Are you fucking crazy!” Doolle yelled, goggling his eyes. “Brother, you know very well that the deal was not to take any jewelry aside! We don’t want any evidence with us if…”
“Shut the fuck up!” Bolle shouted. “You’re whining like a pussy! Give me a break from that Victor shit! Everyone works for themselves if you didn’t know! Who hindered you from putting a few pieces in your bosom! Victor and his lowlifes won’t cry for a few pieces of jewelry, don’t worry! They also have their bags overfull so no one will go home empty-handed!”
Doolle watched him for a few moments in silence and could no longer stand it, so he left the room.
Bolle begged God to get everything right and decided to stay away from Doolle at the airport.
Friends and lovers
Gill, Victor, and Jacqueline drove right away to their building where they had two apartments in Al Saafa. As soon as Jacqueline parked, Victor went out in silence and opened his trunk and took three backpacks, and put them into the same bag where he had been holding work equipment earlier that night. Together they headed for the hallway and as he was about to go to the elevator after Gill, Jacqueline caught him slightly by the forearm.
“Victor. We need to talk.”
“Say it, Jacquie.”
“Take this,” she said, reaching into her pocket. “These are your car keys.”
“Wait a minute,” Victor said, confused. “The plan was for you to take us to the transfer point in the morning, then return the car to the rent-a-car agency. What, wasn’t your flight to Prague the day after tomorrow?”
“No,” she said, shaking her head resolutely. “It’s over, Victor. I have an open ticket so I’m leaving early tomorrow morning. Getting away from here as soon as possible. I’m retreating too.”
“Why did you stop? Is everything okay?” Gill yelled from inside the building. “The elevator’s waiting!”
“Jacquie, please calm down, okay?” Victor patted her shoulder tenderly. “Buddy, go upstairs to the flat, I’ll walk Jacqueline to her flat first!”
“Okay!” Gill nodded and got into the elevator, leaving them alone.
“Jacquie, calm down. See how you’re trembling. Let me walk you to the apartment,” he said, gently taking her forearm.
They were silent in the elevator, as well as they were walking down the hall to her apartment. She quickly unlocked the door and left the door open for Victor as she went directly to her bedroom and took her suitcase. She tossed it on the bed and took out her entire wardrobe from the closet hangers, dresses, T-shirts, skirts, and rolled it all into one roll and tossed it into the suitcase, angrily pressing on the clothes.
Victor decided to let her pack and calm down so he went to the kitchen. He dropped his loot bag in the middle of the kitchen table and took a glass of water from the fridge. The cold liquid comforted him, making his mind clear, but the noise from the next room incited disquietude in him again.
“Jacquie, heck,” he said from the door. “What made you so shook up all of a sudden?“ he started the conversation timidly.
“How do you not understand?!” Jacqueline yelled at the verge of tears. “Well, you’ve always been the brains of the team along with Jolly’s muscles! You know they’ll probably find my DNA traces in the unfired Audi! I have to take off immediately! The cops will one hundred percent check right away who rented the cars and they could come after me tomorrow!”
“You’re right,” he whispered, looking down at the floor. “But it doesn’t have to be that way, Jacquie,” he began enthusiastically. “That’s why we went for the theft variant. We have an alibi that anyone could have done it, not just the customers who rented the Audis.”
“I know,” she said conciliatorily, sitting up to her suitcase. “But it’s not about that now either, Victor. I’ve been thinking about retreating for quite a while now. Last year I was thinking of retreating, but then I got attracted to the fucking exotics of this location. Fuck, we never did jobs in Asia. But this with the unfired Audi is a sign. Intuition is telling me that I’ve had enough of this,” she finished in a low voice.
She stood up wiping a tear that had fled her eye and took a smaller red suitcase into which she began packing her underwear, makeup, wigs, and jewelry.
Victor looked over and observed two bottles of wine and glasses on a cabinet right below the TV set. He took both, perceived that one bottle was just opened and he poured two full glasses of wine from it.
“Have some. It will make you feel better.”
She was glad to take the glass from his hand and swigged.
“You’ve always known what I needed. I have to finish packing.”
“I see,” he smiled gently and left her alone in the room.
He picked the big black bag from the kitchen table and took it to the living room. He carefully opened all three backpacks and emptied out their contents on the table before starting to sort out the broken glass from the jewelry. He genuinely admired some pieces of jewelry before putting them back in his bag.
As soon as she finished packing, she joined him on the couch, so they were sorting the jewelry together, occasionally swigging wine from the bottle she’d brought with her from the bedroom.
Having finished sorting, Jacqueline took out her cigarettes and offered him one too. They smoked in silence and Victor couldn’t take his eyes off her.
“What are you gazing at so much?”
Victor gently tucked a tuft of her beautiful chestnut brown hair behind her ear.
“So where am I to find a woman like you now? A woman who has the necessary dose of adrenaline, beauty, intelligence, and above all, courage.”
“And greed,” she added with a sarcastic grin. “You know very well how much I love money.”
Her words did not suit him, so he pretended to be angry.
“Come on, what’re you talking about? There’s no one like you, Jacquie. You’ve fit in perfectly with an unusual team of global diamond robbers, and you’ve made the final piece to make the winning combination, with your talent for makeup and disguise. Oh, you’ve been the key player on the team. We’ve all loved you! And I’m all screwed up now because you are – irreplaceable.”
“Come on,” she said, waving her hand. “You’ll easily replace me soon enough.”
“Jacquie,” he paused, looking at her seriously. “I don’t want to replace you.”
“I know, Victor, but I’ve made up my mind. I just want to tell you how I feel, and I don’t feel safe anymore, not to mention happy.”
Victor stared at her and noticed two suitcases behind her shoulder, waiting by the front door.
“So that’s really it?”
“What?” she asked confusedly.
“Well, that. First Jolly leaves, now you’re leaving too,” he said with sadness in his voice.
“Victor!” she said, slightly taken aback. “Well, no one said this would last forever! After all, I can’t believe you’ve never thought about moving on!”
“Well, I haven’t, as a matter of a fact,” he sighed, reaching for the rest of the wine in the glass.
“You have not?” she asked in surprise, then reached for the bottle and noticed it was empty. “No more.”
“Where’s the opener?” Victor stood up to open the other bottle, placing his glass on the table.
“The top drawer to the left of the sink,” she said, settling into a more comfortable pose on the couch.
Soon after that, Victor returned, carrying the new bottle and the opener. In the blink of an eye, the bottle was opened and the glasses filled before he settled comfortably beside her.
“No, Jacquie. I’ve never thought really about what to do next one day,” he paused to try the new wine. “I’ve burnt all the bridges behind me when I left. I don’t really have some years of service recorded in my employment book. All these years I’ve wasted on these various combinations, better to say nonsense. Before the war, I’ve had shut at basketball playing, and then those malignant warmongers came to power, who forced me to take a gun instead of a ball and kill my neighbors and friends up to the day before. After the war, I worked for some time as a translator or project manager in these international organizations, plus smuggling stolen goods and in addition to it all I kept running a bar. If a miracle were to happen now and I started doing some normal work, I honestly don’t know how I could right now go back to a fucking-boring office job. You know, earning nickel and dime, paying bills and taxes, barely making ends meet every month. After this adrenaline rush, this profit that allows me to live like a king for a whole year with just one job done in a matter of minutes, how do I get back to a normal life?”
Jacqueline listened to him in silence and nodded.
“I will miss that profit too, I have to admit it,” she said sadly. “But I will do what I love. I’m going to open my studio that I’ve always dreamed of,” she said, looking away, and the very thought of a bright future illuminated her face.
“God’s will be, Jacquie, may it be the best studio in the world!” he said, raising his glass and clinking hers.
They drank most of the other bottle, scrolling down the memories of the jobs they did, laughing together at the folly and audacity with which they left their mark on the world’s stage.
Victor reached for the backpacks and packed them all in one intending to throw them into Dubai Creek during the planned boat trip tomorrow morning.
Jacqueline swigged the rest of the wine and suddenly got up.
“I have to go now, Victor.”
“Where are you going, it’s about two in the morning.”
“I’m leaving. The sooner I get to the airport, the more relieved I’ll feel. And I want to check the ticket right away. I have a business class open, I will rest in one of their VIP lounges. I never had the opportunity to enjoy one of those little corners of luxury at airports anyway,” she said with a spontaneous smile and headed for the front door.
Victor was right behind her back and before she took her suitcases in her arms, she hugged him tightly like never before.
They both knew they might never see each other again. They felt it deep down in their hearts. All the attraction they felt for each other was subdued all the time because of their professionalism. They knew it would harm jobs if they let emotions enthrall their minds. So now he felt he could let emotions take hold of his body, his hands that began to explore her body, his lips to search for hers, soft and supple.
“Don’t,” she whispered, though in a sultry, passionate tone of desire, and he sensed it.
Kissing passionately, they succumbed to the passion that had been simmering in them for years, to the love that had eluded them for so long. He grabbed her firmly in his arms and carried her to the bed where, under the influence of emotional madness, they began to tear their clothes off. He lusted after her more than anything, just like she desired him. They merged into one, enjoying the mutual lovemaking as if there were no past or tomorrow. At the same moment, they felt exultation and sadness, indulging in her, surrendering to him altogether.
In that brief and tumultuous night, they made love several times, until they fell asleep just before dawn, in each other’s arms and with their tired bodies intertwined.
16 April 2007, Dubai
Hours later, Victor woke up in her bed and noticed he was alone. He got up and went around the whole apartment, but did not find her. He knew she was gone. He felt a dull burning stab in his chest. The bag in the middle of the living room caught his attention and he checked its contents out unconsciously. All the jewelry was there as he left it.
“My Jacquie,” he thought and laughed to himself and his stupid distrust. “No one is like her.”
He used her bathroom, took a shower, and washed away all her scents as if he wanted to completely forget her and get her out of his mind, even though he knew it wouldn’t be easy. Dressing hastily, he grabbed his bag from the living room and returned to Gill’s apartment. Again seriousness took dominated his face, just as concentration overwhelmed his reason.
“Where were you all night, man?!” Gill yelled as soon as he saw him at the door. “Worst-case scenarios went through my head!”
“It’s okay, buddy. I fell asleep in Jacqueline’s apartment.”
“And where is she? Is she coming? Well, I just made some coffee.”
“She already left. Have you packed your stuff?”
“Now I have to hurry up packing too. Come on, get some coffee for me too, I’ll be in the bedroom.”
“Ok, I’ll be right back.”
He heard him behind his back as he removed his stuff from the closet and tossed it on the bed. In a minute, Gill showed up, carrying two cups of coffee.
“Here, the way you like it,” he said, handing him the cup.
“Thanks, buddy,” he said, sipping his coffee, feeling better right away. “Listen, Gill. Now when you get home, it may be better to stay away from those two guys. You’d better not even come home right away. You have enough money now to settle down for at least a few weeks. Fuck, we still don’t know if someone’s DNA was left in your unfired Audi. Whomever they identify, they will come for him sooner or later, and they will connect whom he hanged out with.”
“They won’t find anything mine!” Gill said emphatically. “I’ve had gloves on all the time,” he said confidently, staring at his suitcase for a few moments. “But fuck, what if they really find something and pick me up at the border?”
Victor saw his confidence melt like ice in the sun. He immediately noticed the paranoia he had seen with Jacqueline before so he decided to address the whole situation in a calm tone.“Chill out, brother. It will take months, that investigation of theirs. If there are clues to your DNA, they can’t find it right away, it will take some time if there is anything of yours at all. If you have so much trouble going to the airports alone, you can come with me. I decided to go via the backup scheme, first to Baghdad and then back to Europe from Baghdad. You have an open ticket via Vienna, you can go straight to the airport and use that civilian flight. The third option we have is a cruise ship, but this is the longest one via Mumbai because you are only disembarking in Europe in two weeks. You choose, as you will.”
“If it’s up to me,” Gill began, “… I’d like to go with you. Where you are, there I am, my brother.”
Victor looked at him and felt a slight relief that he wouldn’t have to travel alone, being still a little languished. “Ok, my brother” he nodded, pleased. “We’ll get Jacqueline’s car back to the rental agency and then we’re getting the hell out of here.”
As soon as he was done packing, he took the last thing out of the closet, old theater prop which is known as a fake belly, which Jacqueline rearranged for him, in which he carefully stored the valuable jewelry. He girded it around his body and put on his shirt and looked in the mirror. It looked perfect as if he had a beer belly. He smiled at himself in the mirror. He felt a longing for Jacqueline and frowned.
Closing the apartment door and carrying suitcases in their hands, they lowered with the elevator to the parking lot and took the car to the agency.
The whole time, Victor felt like he was sitting on pins and needles, though he tried not to show it to Gill. They returned the car without a problem as it was paid for a full month service, and he was momentarily relieved. If the police forces had been already on their trail, they would surely have been caught as returning the car to the agency. Calling a cab on the street, they boarded their suitcases and Victor handed a note with the address to their driver.
“Where are we going now? What’s the plan?” Gill asked impatiently.
“A few years ago, I hooked up with a hot chick at my cafe. An amazingly sexy businesswoman, she works as a human resources manager at an American logistics company headquartered in Dubai. They work for military missions in the Middle East. She came from Dubai for a vacation. We had a great time, lots of partying and sex, she was gone on me. She has been calling me ever since and offering me to come to her. She always talked about getting me a job in Baghdad first, so that I get into the company, as they have such a big project that they need thousands of workers, and eventually, she would move me to her office in Dubai. After I found out about the location of the new robbery planned, I called her to ask her if the offer was still standing, and she could hardly wait,” he said with a chuckle. “I received an offer for a job in Baghdad through her, but when we had the names for your new passports, I conditioned the job for the three of you too, telling her that I was like afraid to go on such an unknown war mission alone, so she managed to get a job for the four of us, together.”
“And you did all this before leaving here for Dubai?”
“Yes, that’s right. I have yours and my papers in my bag.”
“But what about the booty there at the border?” Gill asked quietly and with fear in his voice. “What if the customs officers catch us?”
“That’s what crossed my mind first when she mentioned the job. Even before this Dubai job scheme was mentioned at all, I had been afraid of the borders. I told her that I was not crazy to go there, to have some Taliban cut my head off at the border, which she laughed heartily at. Laughing, she told me there were no Taliban there, that this was Iraq and they were in Afghanistan, and that we would not fly commercial flights to Baghdad at all, but her company had special charter flights from a US Army-chartered military terminal. Those are special treatment flights that do not go through customs at all but land directly at a military base in Baghdad. You see, so will we, we will neither see the civilian airport nor the fucking customs… and there, when we reach Baghdad, I have a combination for further transport,” Victor concluded triumphantly.
In Iraqi boondocks
Iraq, April 2007
The taxi left them at the entrance to the Grand Hotel, where a banner of the company they will start working for fluttered on the flag. They took their suitcases in their hands and entered the lobby of the Hotel, which was not as glamorous as other expensive Dubai hotels.
The lobby was swarming with guys like them who looked a little lost as the two of them did. He had folders in his hand with all the paperwork he needed, and just as he was about to go to the front desk to look for information, a handsome brunette appeared in front of him in a business suit with a wide smile on her pretty face with nice makeup.
“Didn’t you get lost a little, boys?”
“Evana, pretty, how’re you?” Victor exclaimed mildly, coming out to meet her, hugging her tightly.
“I’m great, but you don’t look your best. You’re all pale in the face.”
“It’s this sun, girl. I didn’t take care of myself,” he said, pointing to Gill. “This is my friend, Gill. We’ve known each other for centuries.”
“Well, welcome, Gill,” she said shaking his hand warmly.
“Thank you, pretty.”
“And where are the other two? Are they coming later or got jitters?”
“Jitters,” Victor replied briefly.
“It doesn’t matter, whoever wants to work is welcome. Did you get a little fat, or is it just my imagination?” she asked teasingly.
“I did. Life back home is not as bad as it looks on television.”
“The heat of Iraq will make you again fit as you used to be,” she said with a wink. “Now we’re going to the reception desk to get you a room, for you to settle down and rest for a while. You are already scheduled to undergo a medical examination tomorrow, then drills and pieces of training for mission prep follow from the day after tomorrow.”
“Okay,” the guys nodded and followed her.
As soon as they reached the room, Victor took off his belt, feeling relieved.
“Good that you really had got some weight,” Gill said, looking at Victor’s sweaty stomach. “If you had been thin, now you would have melted and been just skinny bones”.
“Fuck this belt, as if it’s not enough that I’m already feeling like jackshit, now plus this. Fortunately, this training does not last long. I hope we just get to Baghdad as soon as possible,” he said and went to the bathroom to freshen up.
The next day, they did routine systematic physical checkups with the others, while they spent the rest of the day in the room, resting. Fortunately, Evana was very busy and it suited him perfectly. Losing Jacqueline hurt much more than he thought it would.
After completing the training for the next few days, the newly recruited employees were ready to fly into the unknown. That same evening, he and Evana sat on the hotel balcony, where they talked about many topics with a bottle of red wine.
“I missed you, and our naughty bits too,” she said with a wink.
“Missed you too, my pretty. I’d love to repeat our naughty bits, but I can barely stand on my feet.”
“Eh, yes! What did the doctor say?”
“He says it’s sunstroke, and my body is exhausted, and advised me to rest. Fuck, it’s easy to say that. When you’re out of money, you can’t afford to rest.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll arrange for you to come here soon, to assist me.”
“So, you want me to be your assistant?” he asked jokingly.
“Well, you may put it that way. The boss must be contented with the assistant.”
“As I recall, you were not too demanding. I doubt I’m going to be a bad assistant.”
“Oh, you’re going to be the best assistant. It’s just a shame the doctor recommended you resting, vacation, I’d be so glad to make you sweat right now.”
“Don’t push it, pretty, otherwise they’ll have to carry me in a casket on the plane tomorrow.”
They laughed together, although his conscience bothered him a little to take advantage of such a pretty and kind-hearted girl.
Early in the morning, just after breakfast, a bus arrived to pick up recruited new workers. Once again, they hugged with Evana before embarking on a new adventure. They sat by the window and waved at her until the bus left.
“Here we go, bro.”
“Yes, bro” Victor confirmed.
“And where are we going, bro?”
“To motherfucking hell, bro” Victor accepted the joke, and in nervousness and fear, they both burst out to laughter of two madmen.
Before taking off, he bought a big bag full of cigarettes and sweets at a couple of duty-free shops at the terminal. The belt did not bother him, though he did feel the heat despite the air-conditioned space of the terminal. Two hours after leaving the hotel, they were on a plane to Baghdad.
He tried to catch some sleep on the plane, but his worries did not allow him. Nearly three hours later, a special charter flight full of new employees landed at a Baghdad airport amid a sandstorm. Against the swelter and wind-carried sand, they ran to the terminal, where they caught a piece of safety. He noticed airport security and customs controls that really scared him. He knew if he went through the X-ray door it was all over with him. They were in a group with other employees when one of the company representatives appeared. He waved to them and they all followed him, bypassing all customs controls. He was breaking out in cold sweat down his back. A brief glance at Gill told him he wasn’t the only one who got scared.
They passed the airport building unhindered and out into the sandstorm again.
“And back to bloody dust,” Gill exclaimed, squinting. “What a shithole in the middle of nowhere!”
“Just what we need! Come on, let’s go” Viktor yelled, seeing the bus coming to meet them.
The swirling sand made it impossible for them to look and observe the wider picture of the area they came to. After less than half an hour’s drive, the bus stopped to unload the passengers at a secured camp. Without much talk by the well-organized billeting personnel, the two of them along with six others were placed in a transit tent with field beds. Despite the Spartan accommodation, Victor was more than pleased with the lack of civilian security measures, such as police and Interpol. He knew that if there were a little chance of them being sought by the police, Baghdad would never cross their minds.
Gill threw things onto the first free field bed and Victor took the next one at the very end of the bed row. Not even taking his clothes off, Gill tossed himself into the mattress, trying to find a comfortable pose.
“Fucking uncomfortable… I’ll never get used to these military beds,” he grudged, and suddenly fell silent. In less than a minute, he snored so loud that the whole tent was swinging.
Victor noticed the silent grunts of the others, but apparently, they were looking too tough to handle because no one had the guts to reproach anything to them.
He, too, stretched out on the bed, taking a better pose on his side so that the jewelry in his belt did not chafe him, and he fell sound asleep, for the first time in a long while without a single worry in his mind.
I am the author working on the Pink Panthers trilogy series, including the first novel “The Greatest Thieves in the World”, which was published globally in June this year. I am a logistics specialist having worked for large international organizations and corporations such as the United Nations, Halliburton/KBR, or DynCorp, being stationed for twenty years working in areas consumed by ferocious civil wars in Bosnia and Serbia or the occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq. I am an author who lived and worked in 4 continents and witnessed 4 wars, walking the paths of my characters, therefore being able to turn my extensive experience into inspirational and instructive fiction and non-fiction narratives. I am telling stories about paradoxes of the modern world where evil reigns while chivalry yet survives and write only about real-life stories which have it all, a powerful blend of real-life situations and crime thriller, shaking family experience and shocking war and political drama.
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