Marked for Revenge, page 1part #3 of Zelda Richardson Series
Marked for Revenge
An Art Heist Thriller
Jennifer S. Alderson
Traveling Life Press
Copyright © 2019 Jennifer Stacey Alderson
Marked for Revenge: An Art Heist Thriller
(Zelda Richardson Mystery Series Book 3)
All rights reserved. This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This eBook or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
Published May 17, 2019
This book is available as paperback and eBook at most online retailers.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, or actual events is entirely coincidental.
Visit Jennifer S. Alderson’s website, Facebook page, BookBub page, or Goodreads page to learn more about her books.
Cover design by DamonZa
Books by Jennifer S. Alderson:
Marked for Revenge: An Art Heist Thriller
Rituals of the Dead: An Artifact Mystery
The Lover’s Portrait: An Art Mystery
Down and Out in Kathmandu: A Backpacker Mystery
Holiday Gone Wrong: A Short Travel Thriller
Notes of a Naive Traveler: Nepal and Thailand Travelogue
Table of Contents
1 Nighttime Flight
2 A Meeting in Marmaris
3 Balkan Bandits Strike Again!
4 A Golden Opportunity
5 A Job Proposal
6 Sleepless Nights
7 Time to Get Robbing
8 Late Night Visit to Museum Friesland
9 One Down, Sixteen to Go
10 Conversations with American Modernists
11 Opening Night
12 A Moonlight Paddle
13 Broken Glass
14 Branching Out
15 Artnapping or Theft-on-demand?
16 The Audacity of Art Thieves
17 The Art Detective
18 Creating a Legacy
19 Seeing Double
20 Beer and a Book
21 Welcome Back
22 What Day Is It?
23 Practice Makes Perfect
24 A Little Birdie Told Me…
25 Family History
26 An Old Friend
27 Peace of Mind
28 People Don’t Just Disappear
29 Ode to Modernists
30 On the Road to Recovery
31 Unexpected Visitor
32 Faulty Memories
33 Securing Storage Space
34 Plea for Help
35 Team Will’s Last Assignment
36 A Drunken Dare
37 A New Lead
38 Try Not to Worry
39 Mistaken Identity
40 Plan B
41 Rotten Flowers
42 Grasping at Straws
43 A New Lead
44 Moving Forward
45 Teaming Up
46 Letters from Home
47 Breaking Routine
48 A Walk to Paradise Garden
49 Sweating the Small Stuff
50 White Lies
51 Tying Up Loose Ends
52 An Unexpected Vistor
53 Going Viral
54 Sally’s Coffee Hour
55 Amsterdam of the South
56 Venetian Betrayal
57 You Only Live Once
58 Hitching a Ride
59 Two Birds, One Stone
60 Exploring Marmaris
61 Stake out in Turkey
62 A Moment of Weakness
63 Hookah for One
64 A Quick Visit to Marmaris Castle
65 Bad Luck
66 Ivan’s Final Message
67 The Weakest Link
68 Moving Too Fast
69 Breaking News
70 A Museum in Marmaris
71 Bucket List
72 Miracles Do Exist
73 Next Assignment
About the Author
Rituals of the Dead: An Artifact Mystery
Down and Out in Kathmandu: An Art Mystery
To my wonderful son and husband for inspiring me daily.
1 Nighttime Flight
August 11, 2018
Marko Antic softly hummed the Dutch national anthem as he cut another watercolor from Vianden Castle’s cold stone wall. As the gilded frame dropped into his free hand, he automatically looked to the life-sized portrait of William II hanging at the opposite end of the narrow room, almost sensing the Dutch king’s disapproval.
“Will you stop already?” his partner-in-crime whispered.
Marko ceased mid-chorus, the last bar of ‘Het Wilhelmus’ hanging eerily in the air. He opened his mouth to reprimand Rikard for being such a killjoy when he realized his friend was right. Although the Turret Room was at the back of an unoccupied medieval castle—and the sole security guard had already completed his rounds—they’d do better to be prudent.
Marko slipped the painting into a padded canvas bag, careful not to put unnecessary pressure on the other two watercolors he’d already plundered from the castle’s walls. He looked to his friend and saw Rikard was placing the tenth and final painting into his bag. As soon as all of the watercolors were secure, it was time to complete this job. Marko sucked in his breath, excited yet nervous about their exit, inspired by the castle’s extraordinary location.
Vianden Castle seemed to grow out of a rocky promontory jutting out into the Our Valley. It was the jewel crowning the tiny village of Vianden—literally. The town’s homes, businesses, and church carved into the steep ridge had a thick blanket of tall trees that covered them. A single road led up to the castle at the top.
At first, Marko and Rikard were overwhelmed by the castle’s position and the seemingly insurmountably high stone wall built around it. Once inside, they were pleasantly surprised by how easily looks could deceive. The castle itself was the main tourist attraction, and that was impossible to steal. Cameras were trained on the main entrances and exits but were not hung up in each room. During their tour, Marko realized why. Only a few inexpensive pieces of art were permanently displayed, and none appeared to be hooked up to an alarm. But then, his trained eye told him they weren’t worth more than a few thousand euros, thus probably not worth insuring. The only additional measure taken to secure the temporary exhibition of watercolors they’d just stolen from was a single camera pointed at the entrance to the Turret Room. One that Marko had covered with tape before entering the space.
Breaking in had been incredibly easy. Because the castle’s entrance was literally at the end of the road, there was little chance of a random passerby seeing them return at two in the morning. Marko and Rikard used rappelling hooks to climb over the massive stone wall surrounding the castle and were inside in a matter of seconds. Thanks to the waning moon, they didn’t have to look hard to find shadows to climb in. Getting out would entail a different route entirely.
Marko triple-checked his canvas bags before glancing over to see Rikard doing the same. The burglars locked eyes and nodded, then rose and crossed the darkened stone floor.
A door on the left side of the Turret Room led to a wide balcony extending far out over the valley below. As soon as Rikard opened it, a strong wind blew inside, chilling Marko to the bone.
Both men dr
Before looting the Turret Room, they had placed two large tote bags on the balcony. Marko opened one and took out a harness shaped like a padded chair. He slipped it over his back and quickly strapped himself in. Then, using a series of bungee cords and carabiners, he secured a crate of artwork to each side. The extra-thick padding should cushion any jarring, and both Marko and Rikard were skilled enough to land softly. Their job depended on it. Once satisfied, he slipped on night-vision goggles, buckled on his helmet, then picked up a small nylon sack with two lines hanging out of it. Marko hooked them into the specially-built loops hanging from his chest. He yanked on each, ensuring they were secure before unfurling the nylon wing. The soft fabric billowed up and out above him. Marko turned on a flashing red beacon attached to his chest and stepped out onto the wide stone railing. The strong winds tugged on the nylon, pulling him forward.
The balcony wasn’t large enough for both to jump simultaneously, but Marko could see that Rikard was almost ready. Pulling tight on the controls, Marko waited until his friend had his wing clipped in properly. As soon as Rikard gave him the thumbs up, Marco released the hand brakes and stepped off the ledge, giving in to the wind’s desire. Marko’s heart raced as his stomach dropped away. For a brief moment, he was plunging toward the earth. Seconds later, his chute grabbed an upward draft and raced up the ridge, jerking him high above the treetops. A smile split his face; he loved the rush. He used his hand grips and weight to control his lateral movements, slowly maneuvering himself away from the tree-covered ridge and back above the river, his night-vision goggles helping him orient.
A minute later, he heard the whooshing sound of another chute catching the wind. He turned his head back toward the castle and searched until he could see his friend’s red beacon flashing. Marko’s grin intensified when he noticed there were no lights visible inside the castle. The robbery probably wouldn’t be detected until morning.
Marko relaxed the tension on his hand grips, allowing his wing to race down the valley, relishing the brief moment of freedom. He couldn’t believe his luck. Marko had always loved his work, but since he began working for his uncle a year ago, his job satisfaction had increased significantly. Thanks to years of stealing paintings and antiques from private homes, Marko had developed a real eye for quality. The mental thrill of creating a devious plan and seeing it through was a real adrenaline kick but getting rid of these illicitly gained goods was always such a pain. There was much risk involved. More and more of his associates had been tripped up by selling them to undercover cops. And when Marko did find a trustworthy buyer, they offered minimal payout.
Marko always knew he could count on his family if he ever got into real trouble, but he had enjoyed following his own path. That is until several of his friends were arrested during a recent sting operation. When his uncle Luka offered to take care of all of that hassle, Marko couldn’t refuse. And his uncle did pay top dollar, more than he’d been able to organize on his own. From time to time, Luka even supplied him with an interesting theft, to boot. There was no shortage of greedy people willing to pay anything to acquire what they wanted, especially when the object of their desire was entirely out of reach even to people of their financial stature.
He kicked his legs around, reveling in the liberating feeling of flying. Too soon, he made out a set of headlights blinking in the distance. Marko adjusted his direction and relaxed into the harness, determined to enjoy the rest of his short flight.
He looked up to the moon and turned his face into the wind, letting it whip across his cheeks — God, how he loved his job.
2 A Meeting in Marmaris
August 12, 2018
Sunlight sparkled off the waters of Marmaris Bay, turning the ripples into fluid diamonds. In the distance, the green-tipped mountains enclosing the town were hazy purple silhouettes. From his balcony, Kadir Tekin watched Westerners on jet skis churning up the waves as Turkish families splashed in the warm water close to shore. Four-masters decorated as pirate ships sailed further out, heading toward the high peaks of Yildiz Adasi and Keci Adasi, the mountainous islands that separated Marmaris from the Mediterranean Sea.
A servant dressed in a tunic and şalvar trousers unobtrusively came up from behind, bowing slightly. “Luka Antic is here.”
Kadir grunted his acknowledgment, keeping his eyes focused south. A large yacht crossed the bay, sail set for Netsel Marina. He watched until the Italian vessel moored and a group of wealthy twenty-somethings scampered off, immediately heading toward the boutique-filled streets next to the marina. He picked up his binoculars and took in their scantily-clad bodies, dark curly hair, and the expensive jewelry hanging around their necks, arms, and ankles. He was planning to lunch along the water after this meeting—he would have to look for them.
Kadir turned and crossed the pink stone marble balcony to the wide-open French doors of his study. Inside stood his Croatian guest. When Davit, a mutual business associate, told him about Luka’s specialty and mentioned the Croatian was looking to expand his business interests, Kadir jumped at the chance to meet with him.
Initial contact established that Luka wanted to buy two million dollars’ worth of his highest-grade heroin. The Croatian was moving into the drugs business and wanted to make a big splash. Kadir was impressed by his gumption and could easily fulfill the order, but he wanted to meet Luka first. Nothing replaced that initial impression. Besides, he wanted to see the Croatian’s reaction when he told him about his rather unusual request. Only then would he know if they could do business together or not.
Luka stood next to Kadir’s desk, waiting for his host to approach. Luka was shorter than Kadir’s own five-foot, five-inch frame but was studier, broader. His buzz cut distracted from the fact that he was going bald. His face was clean-shaven, but his stubble was already struggling to break through his skin again.
Kadir extended a hand. “Davit speaks highly of you.”
“That’s good to know. We go way back,” Luka replied. The Croatian’s raspy voice made Kadir have to strain his ears to understand him.
Kadir sat in one of the chairs across from his desk and signaled for Luka to sit next to him. “Davit told me you are active in the art world.”
“That’s one way of putting it,” Luka responded, his face remaining a mask of indifference.
Kadir leaned over his desk and picked up a newspaper resting atop a stack of coffee table books. He threw it onto Luka’s lap. The headline on the English-language paper’s front page read ‘Brazen Art Theft in Luxembourg.’ Photos of Vianden Castle and two painted landscapes were visible above the fold. “This is your work, isn’t it?”
The Croatian’s jaw tightened as he glanced over the article. “Yes, I organized this,” he said, his tone defiant.
Kadir could imagine Luka was not pleased with their friend Davit right now. All successful criminal organizations relied on discretion, and Davit had broken the implied vow of silence by telling Kadir about Luka’s line of business. “Frankly, if Davit had not told me about your work, you would not be here.”
Luka glared at him then nodded slowly, his irritation dissipating as he accepted his friend’s slip of the tongue.
Kadir gazed into his eyes, trying to decide what kind of soul this man possessed and if it was an honorable one. “I am a rich man with prestige, wealth, and a healthy family, yet my hunger for more is sometimes insatiable. I have no interest in working with new clients, but when Davit told me about your current line of business, I realized it was a sign. I can get you the product you desire if you help me realize my lega
The Croatian looked at him, fighting to keep his face neutral as his mind raced through the possibilities.
Kadir knew his heroin was top quality and available for a lower price than most of his competition. All Luka had to do was say yes. This desire to lay the foundation for his final legacy was gnawing at his soul. Kadir looked away from his guest, almost afraid Luka could sense his desperation.
For far too long, the Croatian remained silent, his eyes studying his host’s face. Finally, to Kadir’s immense relief, Luka said, “I am listening.”
3 Balkan Bandits Strike Again!
August 13, 2018
‘Balkan Bandits Strike Again!’ screamed the headline of the NRC Handelsblad’s front page, now open on Zelda’s computer screen. Ten minutes ago, she had finished fact-checking the biographies of Jackson Pollock, Jasper Johns, Franz Kline, and several more American modernists included on the Amstel Modern’s website. It was her third read-through, but she wanted to make sure it was perfect before sending the updated texts to her boss. Even though she had always treated her unpaid internships as real jobs, being a paid employee did make her feel even more responsible for getting everything right—the first time. And her work as a collection assistant was both fulfilling and fun. Her coworkers were a blast, and the research, copywriting, and editing work was varied and interesting. She almost hoped the woman whose job she had temporarily taken over would decide not to return to work after her six-month sabbatical ended.
A glance at the clock reminded Zelda that her next meeting was about to start. She skimmed the newspaper open on her screen in the hope of learning more about the audacious robbery that had taken place in Luxembourg two nights earlier. So far, this lengthy article was a summary of what her coworkers had told her during this morning’s coffee break.