For the real Pink Panthers to be remembered… and to their curious fans who also smash and grab through life and dare to fight for their dreams too…
By personalizing the functioning of criminal cartels, the horror of war, the dissolving of country and family, and showing the results of these bold events have on individuals is the general theme I tried to dive into this novel. Humanizing and both warmly and humorously portraying its main characters, without relieving them from responsibility, the novel offers an analytical portrait of people who had different plans for life and their future, which failed due to wars, a devastated economy, corruption, nepotism, and societal moral collapse.
This novel is the first part of a trilogy that deals with the socio-historical context of emergence, rise, and (temporary) fall of the famous and powerful international robber group, Pink Panthers, created in the whirlwind of war during the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia. In close-up are the Pink Panthers characters, their principles, a system of work and organizational structure, tactical patterns of action and logistical processes, described through the example of adventures in preparing and carrying out robberies in Antwerp, London, Tokyo, Paris, Amsterdam, St. Tropez and Dubai. The light form of fiction and adventure drama shows 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 shows the entire process of the diamond business, how diamonds come to jewelry stores, from relentless exploitation of rich deposits of poor third-world countries and inciting bloody civil wars in them, to intertwining of the diamond business with drug cartels, human trafficking, interests of banks, corporate and military-industrial magnates and diplomatic-political machinations.
The second and third parts of the trilogy will show the further fate of the main characters when some members of the group try to start a normal family life in a tragicomic way before returning to what they do best, while the others “re-specialize”.
Now, let’s have some fun – enjoy reading!
The first time I heard about the Pink Panthers I didn’t pay too much attention. I considered them yet another in a series of robbers who dare defy the society and its norms taking such risky steps. However, as time went on, I realized that all the risk that the Pink Panthers had invested in the robberies was very well calculated in the overall equation.
I don’t even have to mention that the locations chosen by the Pink Panthers sounded bombastic as if from the best Hollywood production. Paris, London, Amsterdam, St. Tropez! The ideas that the Pink Panthers introduced as a ‘patent’ in committing the robberies were more intriguing than even the greatest movie-minds could come up with. And I’m not just talking about disguising themselves as women, fleeing by speedboat and the like, but that all the robberies were committed without a single victim, and that’s what makes the Pink Panthers unique in the criminal world. With their imagination and extremely expressed audacity in carrying out their robberies, they left the world breathless, including me.
Nebojsa and I were united by fate. Each in his part of the world, we managed to find ourselves in the backwaters of the internet, and at first, he tickled my curiosity. I wanted to read, I longed to find out how those glorious robberies took place, what went wrong and what went well. While reading this novel that you are holding in your hand, I felt the fears of the main characters, doubts, and, in the end, happiness. Yes, I was looking forward to it with them after the robberies and I wanted to drink a glass of champagne after reading the chapter on a ‘job well done’. We also cried together, digging through our memories when life brought them to their knees.
I will not lie. While editing this book, I laughed and cried, and also bit my nails in anticipation of what the next page would bring. And I can also say that I came out richer for a lot of information I didn’t know before. Today, in the age of the internet, it is hard to find.
Like this book.
A real rarity and enjoyment.
Editor, Zoran Cickaj
Thanks to all the supporters and the haters too - your energy fueled me to keep it up and don’t quit.
Special thanks to my editors Zoran Cickaj and Dijana Sajic, as well as Dijana Sajic for perfect translation from Serbian to English and DzinicDesign for a perfect cover page - you helped me to make this book better than I could have ever imagined.
Memories - Panthers’ calling
(London – Graff 2003, Courchevel – Doux 2003, Tokio – Comtesse de Vendome, 2004)
A dreadful scream broke out through the night.
Jumping up out of the field bed, Victor at first couldn’t even apprehend where he was. A cold night desert air and the swaying wall made up of a military tent reminded him of his current abode…
Grabbing a magazine from the nightstand, he rolled it while running and brandished it towards a small mouse that was frantically milling remains of food entangled in the thick, tufted, and fatty beard of the fat man lying on the bed next to his. The blow onto the little rodent was more than successful, he thought watching it fly across the empty bed and cram into the tent canvas, then, successfully getting its feet on the ground, it slipped away, scraping through the narrow space between the ground and the tent.
The sight of the leftovers of French fries and chicken bones around the fat man only made Victor more enraged. The fatty, still under the impression of having a rodent on himself, beat his beard frantically, clearing himself with funny flustered moves, resembling the best moments of Benny Hill Show.
“Didn’t I tell you last night that rodents are attracted to food scraps, thus not to bring food into the tent?” the quiet, threatening tone of his voice echoed in the fatty’s head worse than any dangerous predator’s shrieking.
“You did, I know, yes, you said, but …” the fat man was trying to avoid Victor’s glaring eyes, “…but you know I have a hard time trying to fall asleep. I’m having trouble sleeping.”
“Then read a book, count stars and you’ll fall asleep quickly. This theory of yours is just an excuse. What, like, you have to eat a ton of shit because you lose sleep over?”
“Well, when I’m nervous…I get hungry…and I can’t fall asleep when I’m hungry…” the fat man stuttered, not knowing where to look, “…so I lose sleepover.” He finally lifted his head and looked at him with his tiny shy eyes, squeezed by the greasy swollen face. A tiny chunk of chips persisted on the tip of his beard and he couldn’t resist it, but grabbed it and swallowed it faster than a pelican would catch a fish.
“Man, no one forbids you to eat, just don’t eat in the tent… and clean up this crap behind you.” Victor looked at him with disgust, then turned on his heel and left the tent.
The fresh night air surged him over.
The silence and gloomy darkness made him look up into the sky and he was stunned to see the countless glittering stars in the sky above the Arabian Desert. As wide as his gaze was reaching, the stars in clusters glittered at each other. At that moment, he realized that he had never seen anything like this in his life. To make the experience complete, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes lighting one, never taking his eyes off the sky. The soothing component of a cigarette directed his thoughts to all the events that brought him to where he was now. To die-hard Baghdad desert boondocks.
Friends and associates
On a sunny afternoon in the peak of autumn, in the shade beneath the walls of a historic fortress in a small rustic Italian town, Victor sat on a small cafe balcony, enjoying morning coffee with a beautiful blond with nice curves. They did not talk much but rather enjoyed the slow but lively life of the small town, which was transfusing through its small narrow streets. The relaxation, as they made the most of it, was comforting to every atom of his body.
Taking the last sip of coffee, he rose in a good old fashion, while his companion decided to read the daily newspaper. Despite the holidays, he could not afford to neglect the job. He walked the easy step to a nearby internet cafe, where they had already got accustomed to his face, so he sat down in the farthest corner, his favorite.
Opening Gmail, he typed in a username, PPanther, and then the password.
Gmail does its thing right away and the email display opens. There were no new emails in the inbox, but he didn’t expect them either, as the inbox was always empty. He clicked on Drafts, where he saw only one message with the caption: FinRep-At-Lady’s-Confirmations? The text of the email was scarce, consisting of only five abbreviations.
He deleted the question mark behind Vc and typed Ok.
After opening a new window in the browser, he searched the AirItalia website and booked a ticket for tomorrow’s flight from Milan to Antwerp in a few steps. He returned to the Drafts and in addition to the inscribed Ok, he added tomorrow’s date.
He completed a careful logout from the Gmail and, after paying the bill, walked out into the already sun-bathed streets, hurrying to rejoin his beautiful girl as soon as possible. Before he sat down at the table, he hugged her and ordered two more coffees and lemonades.
“I have to go to Belgium tomorrow, to Antwerp.”
“You do? What is it all at once about?” the blonde wondered.
“Fuck it, business as usual. Do you want to come with me?” he asked with one of those irresistible smiles she loved.
She moved her chair closer to him and hugged him.
“You know I can’t. Tomorrow is my first day of practical training,” she said, then kissed him gently, arousing his manhood.
The church bell began to ring for ten o’clock, and he felt happy in that romantic moment in the sun and the hands of the beautiful girl.
The rest of the day was the only thing they were left with, and they made the most of it, wrestling under sheets in a small luxury hotel, while in the evening, the restaurant food refreshed their body and soul. The very next morning he woke up alone in bed and as he was getting ready for the trip, yesterday seemed like a good dream.
Not disregarding the routine, after a morning coffee at the same place, he went to a nearby internet cafe, where he was pleasantly surprised to open Gmail and read Ok instead of all question marks that were there yesterday. On his way out, he logged out of Gmail, paid the bill, and stopped the first taxi he encountered on the street.
“Alla Stazione Ferroviaria, per favore,” Victor said after sitting in the back seat, seeing the driver nodding in the rearview mirror.
Armed with patience, he waited for his turn to buy a fast train ticket to Milan, which was scheduled to depart in half an hour. Although it was a two-hour ride by train, he could not force himself to close his eyes. The adrenaline that was awakened in him by the very act of traveling hardly managed to dim. His eyes flicked over the faces of people coming down and entering the oncoming stations, managing to spot a few good specimens of the female population, and one of them seemed to smile back at him.
The train entered Milan Central Station on time as scheduled. He stepped out of the train among the last passengers, admiring the high-set glass vault that covered all platforms. He quickly glanced at his watch and realized he had two hours left until his flight. While on the move, he changed his plan and decided to switch to local train platforms where, very easily, following signs, he found an express train to Malpensa Airport. He bought a one-way ticket from one of the ticket vendors and waited for ten minutes before the express train rolled onto the platform. He has always preferred public transportation over using taxis, because any taxi driver is rarely likely to forget the faces of the people he drives, and this was not acceptable to a person of his occupation. Meticulous and systematic as he was, he always thought of every potential unpleasant possibility. The wagon door closed and, after six stations counted, he exited at the Airport Terminal 1.
Glancing at his watch, he had enough time to check in on a flight to Antwerp. With only one small bag in hand, there was no need to check-in any luggage, so he headed straight through the security check and after a stroll, he found his gate to board the Alitalia flight. Stepping on the bridge to the plane, he listened to the sound of the engine, which has always had some calming effect on him.
Before the plane started sliding to the runway, Victor was already sinking into a slight snooze, rocked by the sound of the plane engine.
In the afternoon, after a coffee and a sandwich offered by an eye-pleasing flight attendant, the plane landed at the Antwerp Airport and after a routine passport check at customs, he took the first free cab.
“To the HotelO Antwerpen Cathedral, please.” Victor settled down comfortably, watching Antwerp and its streets for the next twenty minutes or so.
The 100-meter-tall church tower belonging to the Notre Dame Cathedral caught all of his attention, forcing him to stop and admire that lavish beauty for a few moments. Eventually, he realized that he had not come to Antwerp to admire edifices of the past, so he made his way across the central square, avoiding groups of tourists, and after only a hundred meters, to the right of the cathedral, he saw HotelO, which was ultimately his goal. A hotel of an average height of only a few floors, typical Belgian architecture combined with a black and white facade, did not make a significant impression as the cathedral did moments ago.
In the hotel lobby, he made his way to the right, heading for the well-known conference room destination at the end of the hall, where he immediately spotted a distinct brunette sitting on one of the leather armchairs in the corner and headed directly towards her.
Recognizing him at once, she stood up and hugged him as cordially as ever, and they kissed each other on the cheek.
“Beautiful and elegant, as always.” Victor smiled at her and little blush on her cheeks looked very likable to him.
“A gentleman as always,” she said, smiling.
To his right, he saw a tall, broad-shouldered man standing by the bookshelf and newspapers, and, letting her hands go for a moment, stepped toward him and hugged him tightly like a brother, they tapped one another on the shoulders.
“So where have you been, Jolly. See what you look like,” Victor’s smile didn’t come off his face.
“How the hell do I look like?”
“Well,” Victor chuckled, managing to catch Jolly’s smile, then turned to the lady in the corner.
“And you Jacqueline, darling, what part of the planet are you coming from this time? Africa, Asia?”
Jacqueline smiled sweetly. “From Asia.”
“What about you?” Victor turned to Jolly.
“From Italy,” Jolly replied, then he took a magazine and began reading it again.
“Whoa! For the second time in a row?” Victor grinned. “Any kind of engagement plan soon, huh?”
Jolly smiled cheerfully at the provocation. “Victor, the man with a plan… ever since. You even plan your night dreams,” Jolly said and looked at him sharply, though he was smiling, his voice tone was undefined.
The waiter interrupted the scene, carrying a piece of nice cake on a platter, serving it in front of Jacqueline. The waiter couldn’t help noticing a smile on Victor’s face.
“So, what kind of cake did you order?” Victor asked her.
“A cherry chocolate cake. Why do you ask? Do you want one too?”
Victor had a sweet laugh and looked at Jolly.
“Hey, maybe these are the cherries from the old Adjia’s garden? You know he had emigrated to Belgium during the war, maybe he planted it here too?”
Jolly cheerfully fought with himself for a few seconds not to laugh, but he couldn’t stand it. They both laughed out loud, leaving Jacqueline looking puzzled at them. The laughter faded, and Jolly couldn’t resist remembering how he and Victor met each other owing to cherries.
Little boys’ play
From his earliest age, Jolly was dubbed as a bad boy. Strong and fearless, he naturally imposed himself as the group leader of street kids who had always been blamed for all the dregs in the neighborhood. With each spring fruit trees blossoming, this little gang meant headache for the neighborhood, as they browsed budding fruit off their twigs.
Although there was never a shortage of food or fruit at home, particularly in the bowl in the living room, the very engaging in theft of neighborhood fruits was more important than the booty itself. That urge and excitement of fruits picked from a neighbor’s garden, lavishing it in his bosom, were unmatched by the world’s most beautiful and exotic fruit in the living room of his home.
So, on a spring day, during their school recess, he tried with his friends to devise a way for them to get cherries from the old Adjia’s yard.
“We looted everything else but his orchard! The old Adjia is a tough one, and he will hit hard if necessary”. Jolly looked at the faces of his mates around him. “And his cherries are getting redder and sweeter with each day”. Jolly unconsciously licked his lips, imagining those cherries juicy and sweet.
“What can we do when his house is at the end of a dead-end street,” someone in the group tried to justify their failure. “There’s no other way to get to the orchard behind the house. Every time we went past the house and the yard, the old asshole would spot us and clobber us.”
“And why don’t you come to the orchard from another direction?”
All the heads turned toward the voice and Jolly noticed a small, brown-haired and skinny boy. All he knew about him was that he had only recently moved to the settlement and that he had had very little or almost nothing to say during their classes.
“There is no road behind the orchard but a steep slope leading to the wall above the hospital,” the same boy from the group replied.
The brown-haired boy broke a twig from a tree beside them and joined the group of guys, kneeling on the freshly dug earth from which a young tree grew.
In a few quick moves, the brown-haired boy drew up a plan that Jolly immediately recognized as the home of old Adjia and the surrounding area.
“If we walk through this courtyard in the upper street next to the fence of the electricity distribution facility, we can reach the fence of the adjacent house from the street above his, and then, while hanging on the fence, we can reach the back fence of his yard without being noticed,” he said with a smug smile, strikingly confident about the success of his plan.
“Maybe it could work,” Jolly grimly stared at the rough sketch of the plan. “Only, you’ve overlooked the fact that the old man is always either in the shed behind the house or in the dining room, and from either, he has a view of the orchard. That’s how he always noticed us when we went into action”.
“There’s a time when he is neither in the shed nor in the dining room,” the smile has never quit the brown-haired boy’s face.
“When?!” everyone asked excitedly at the same time.
“Sunday evening at eight o’clock. At that time, the whole family is watching the TV series in the living room in the other part of the house.”
“And how do you know that?” Jolly asked.
“His wife aunt-Biba called my parents for a welcoming visit when we moved here. We were there just on a Sunday evening. They’ve just started watching the series when we arrived, and his wife said they never missed a single episode. I yawned from boredom outside until nine when the old man came out after the episode ended.”
“Well, when you were already in the yard, didn’t you try the cherries?!” the blond boy from the group yelled.
The brown-haired boy grinned from ear to ear. “You’ve tried nothing so sweet and juicy in your life.”
The guys in the group chuckled, each one imagining them so sweet-n-juicy in their mouths.
“Then what do you say that we meet in the street above the electric facility at half-past seven this Sunday?” Jolly asked. Everyone nodded, agreeing with Jolly when the piercing sound of the school bell called for the end of the recess.
Jolly reached out to the brown-haired boy to help him stand up, considering him one of them.
They both laughed as they shook hands and then walked toward the others.
On Sunday, punctual like clockwork and armed with desire for the forbidden cherries, everyone gathered in the street at half-past seven in the evening, and slowly, using the outside fences of the electricity distribution facility and the adjacent house from the upper street, they descended to the orchard of old Adjia. In a few quick steps, they found themselves by the orchard fence, and Jolly, as a true leader, hopped the fence first and ran quietly to the shed, checking if it was empty. He turned to the others and waved them to join him, and then in just three steps, he was already at the tree branch and chopping cherries off.
Wasting no time, Victor and the other guys ran to the tree and climbed on it skillfully like panthers. The blond boy, who was the smallest in the group, was left to keep watch and tell if the old man peeks out of the dining room.
The four of them could not resist the charms of sweet fruit on the tree, and besides filling their mouths with red cherries, they also shoved into their bosoms in their shirts.
The rapture and call of that beautiful were overwhelming and the blond boy couldn’t resist. Returning to the tree, he picked the cherries he could reach from the ground, shoving some into his shirt, forgetting about keeping an eye on the possible threat from the house.
Enchanted by fruit, all five of them did not notice the old man as he walked across the dining room to the toilet, using a commercial break to ease himself. He opened the door abruptly, and the blond boy in charge of the guard heard late the danger coming.
“The old man! Run!”
Agile as cats, the guys climbed down from the tree in the blink of an eye. Victor couldn’t help looking at the old man, noticing an ax in his hand. More than ever, he wanted to fly faster than the wind. He was just behind Jolly when the ax zipped past his head and stopped at the tree. If only he had been a second slower, he knew it would have hooked him. Adrenaline rushed him faster up the hilly narrow path they had used to come in. Loud profane curses seemed so close to him. He had a feeling that if he stopped, he would be caught and killed by beating. Racing up, he overtook Jolly, and as they climbed uphill behind each other, the slippage of stones attracted his attention. He turned his head and saw Jolly in distress as he stumbled, sliding his foot down the yard against the hospital wall. Grasping his arm and thigh, he brought him back out of the abyss into safety. Breathless and tired, they reached the safety of their neighborhood on the other side of the hill, laughing like crazy, still adrenaline-fueled. Sitting on the steps of a building at the corner of two streets, they felt safe. Finally, when he caught his breath a little, Victor’s eyes looked for the so-called guard.
“Okay, why didn’t you keep watch on the old man?!” Victor shouted.
All eyes were pointed on the guard.
“Well, I kept…I did,” the blond boy murmured.
“I saw, like hell you kept watch! Almost got the old man hitting me with an ax!” Victor yelled, no longer sparing him the reproach.
Jolly left the cherries he had taken under his shirt and prepared to swallow and hugged both of them.
“Come on, calm down. All went well, and that’s the most important thing. We have our loot, more than enough, and the old man can only hang himself at his cherry … We’ve had it whole swept off,” Jolly’s laughter, when sincere, was more than contagious. The discomfort disappeared as wind-blown, and all of them together began guzzling the cherries. The words disappeared; there was only the sound of their thudding mouths.
“Why didn’t you put someone to keep watch in front of the store?”
Jolly laughed at Victor’s question about the guard, remembering their childly ‘action’ twenty years ago.
Drinking his third whiskey in a row on the balcony of Victor’s café, Jolly enjoyed every moment of the beauty brought by the spring. The chirping from the tree crowns shading over Victor’s balcony was the most beautiful tune his ears could hear.
“Three of us were scheduled to go into action,” Jolly said, returning to the conversation with Victor. “Nesho and I did the robbery, and Milan oversaw logistics, securing the lodging and so on. He was waiting for us in a side alley on a used Piaggio scooter he had previously purchased in Isleworth, west London. Milan did not participate directly in the robbery as we needed him to take the booty over after the robbery, while after the handover, the two of us would continue on foot each on our way, one towards Hyde Park and the other towards Buckingham Palace. The deal was to meet Milan at the apartment in Bayswater.” Jolly went silent, waiting for the waitress to serve them another coffee, so when she got far enough, he continued. “The day before the heist, I walked down that same street and there was no security guard outside. I estimated that two men were enough with a third one to convey the loot. The next day after the robbery, we all part our ways. Nesho by plane from Luton to Zurich, and me by train to Paris after I hand the booty over at an agreed place.”
“Wait, so you don’t take the booty with you but hand it over right away?” Victor asked, wishing he could understand all the facts.
“Immediately after the robbery, I get rid of the clothes worn that day and leave the booty at the agreed place, as I told you before. So, I’m leaving empty-handed from London, after the handover, my links to the robbery are cut off and as far as I’m concerned the job is done.”
“And how is it inside? You’d just rush in and smash everything and grab the loot?” Victor asked, eager for details.
“It doesn’t work just like that,” Jolly grinned, sipping coffee. “Nesho entered the Graff jewelry store first, wearing an Elvis wig, which stuck out amazingly on his head. Fortunately, this is not uncommon in London, as many celebrities like to disguise themselves to avoid public hysteria on the street. The forecast for that week was constant raining, ideally, to hide a revolver in an umbrella he carried in his hand. The initial goal is always to relax sellers so they would be showing us the jewelry they have on offer. The day before, he had arranged to be shown that day a twelve-carat diamond ring of $ 450,000. He demurred looking at it, describing it as too glamorous, and then he asked the key question.”
“Which one?” Victor asked, fully focused on the story.
“Do you have a smaller one? It was a sign of action. He pulled out a chromed Magnum.357 and, threatening everyone in the shop, he forced them to lie down on the floor. I took out a hammer and a larger bag from a small Hermes bag broke a few targeted showcases with the hammer and picked up forty-seven pieces of diamond jewelry. The job was done in an instant, and we ran out into the street together, but then a security guard came out of nowhere throwing himself abruptly at him, trying to hijack his gun, which fired during their wrestling at the air conditioner on the wall. The bullet probably bounced off the air conditioner because it knocked over a woman across the street, who fell and screamed as if being slaughtered. I noticed this out of the corner of my eye while I was running down the street, as I was convinced that he was right behind me, but when the gun fired, I turned around and realized I was alone. The woman was lying in pain in the street, and the security guard managed to overcome him.”
“Why didn’t you come back to help him?”
“Victor, that happens only in the movies… in real life, there is no emotion in this business, no coming back, no help. He was hired to be an armed force, my job was to smash the showcases, pick up jewelry, and hand over the loot, which I loaded into Milan’s backpack as soon as I reached the side street. He was waiting for me there, with the engine running, and as soon as I closed his backpack, he disappeared at full throttle. Everyone has to do their part without emotion and any change in the plan.”
“So, you and Milan got away with it, and this one was fucked.”
“Milan was also arrested.”
Victor frowned. “Wait, didn’t you say…”
“Milan made a big mistake, unforgivable one,” Jolly interrupted him. “He took a diamond ring and gave it to his fiancée, telling her not to show it or speak of it to anyone, but of course she immediately boasted to a fellow-waitress at work. It did not take long before a story was shared of a poor student of modern design going around with such a ring, obtained from her fiancé, an unemployed failed student with an expired visa. The story spread like a street fire, it sure reached the ears of snitches who blew the whistle to the police, who consequently raided Milan’s apartment within two days. They found the ring hidden in a face cream jar in the bathroom as it was in that movie. That’s where all that media fame and the nickname came from,” Jolly said, taking the last sip of whiskey, still angry about Milan’s stupidity.
“Fuck, maybe he thought he wasn’t getting paid enough for the job, so he thought maybe he could earn something from the sidelines,” Victor shrugged, trying to grasp the situation from Milan’s position.
“You’re wrong, bro,” Jolly shook his head. “You see, precious stones in the hands of ordinary mortals are not worthy at all, because we cannot sell it for the same amount. On top of that, it’s a closed circuit, and as soon as he would try to sell them, he would be busted – immediately. On my part I explain it to them every time before a robbery; you always have a fool who thinks he can do something on his own. You must understand one thing. Diamonds are high in price just because big dealers have a monopoly on the market. By keeping the offer low, they artificially keep the price high. Diamonds are not rare at all. Up to a hundred years ago, they were much less valuable because they had been found in more places than ever before. That’s why traders have come up with the concept that diamonds are rare, and as soon as something is missing in every corner, its price rises automatically. These traders control the mines and buy all the diamonds in the world and carry them to their extremely well-guarded containers where they are treated and locked up. The concept of an engagement diamond ring originated in the diamond industry and they are the ones who invented the motto ‘if the ring did not cost an entire month’s pay, it means he doesn’t love you’. In the USA, this is worth two monthly salaries. Don’t think I’m trying to justify what I do, but if things were set up as they should be, diamonds wouldn’t cost more than a few hundred dollars… and I’d have to be robbing something else.”
Victor looked at him with raised eyebrows. “Fascinating. And tell me, where do you find your collaborators? Aren’t you afraid that they would sing if got caught?”
“I find them everywhere. A lot of them come on their own and offer their services to me. As soon as they see what kind of car I drive, how I live stress-free, always full of money, they come up to me and ask if there’s any work for them. After all, that’s how I met Nesho. He worked as a janitor at a hospital in Zurich for eleven years. He complained to me that he was full of cleaning their Swiss shit. Milan is a failed student whose visa has expired, he dares not go back to his father’s sight out of fear, as his father has mortgaged his shop to have his son educated in London looking up to some neighbor politicians. Finally, to speak honestly, what could they say about me? That they met a charming stranger whose real name they didn’t know, who promised them a nice sum of money for the job they did. The only thing they can sing to the cops is my fake name Marko and the phone number of a room in a Parisian suburb with a senile landlady that I have never returned to.”
“Why did you hit Graff exactly, why that jewelry store?” Victor took a sip of coffee then cleared his throat with strong but high-quality whiskey.
“For the sake of prom” Jolly smiled.
“What kind of promotion are you talking about, man?” Viktor asked, joining him in a giggle.
“Many elite jewelers like Graff, Chopard, and Harry Winston are on this section of New Bond Street, just a few blocks north of Buckingham Palace. The instructions I received were to attack one of those three stores as these had just refilled their stocks and hand over the booty at an agreed place after the job was done. Of those three, Graff is the most famous one. Fuck, they even bitch about themselves and advertise that they sell the most beautiful diamonds in the world. And their client list will make you fall on your ass. Oprah Winfrey and David Beckham are regular customers. A few days before the job, I went to visit Graff and the security seemed very weak to me. At the entrance, I was greeted by a security guard who did not ask me if I had an appointment or have a peek into the leather bag I was carrying on my shoulder. You must understand that extreme security measures cause discomfort in wealthy clients. So, the decision easily fell to Graff, and I would rather have Chopard and Harry Winston done in Paris anyway. Their shops are far richer over there.”
Victor stared off into the distance thoughtfully, spinning everything he heard in his head. The sunshine reflection on the metallic black Mercedes 500SL parked in front of the patio caught his attention and admiration.
Victor took a sip of his coffee. “I knew exactly that something had changed in your business. You used to come here in nice cars, but something like this, such a beast has never been seen in this area. No news from you for many months, no courier to bring me those fancy clothes and suits, no new goods to move, I knew exactly that you were throwing yourself into something bigger, but…,” Viktor laughed briefly, shaking his head, “… I’d never have thought of what you’ve just told me. I mean, this is a really big deal, you’re robbing jewelry worth millions of euros. Only, I would still do some things differently.”
“For example?” Jolly leaned closer, cocking his ears.
“Let’s say guns for the beginning. I would have planned it in more detail without weapons. You could use plastic guns that look like real ones. This is why this colleague of yours will get at least fifteen years of jail time for armed robbery. If he’d had a plastic toy instead it would’ve been a completely different story and, above all, a woman was injured during the robbery. Real fucking bad luck, if you ask me.”
“Yes, brother, but I want them to be scared and do what I tell them to, not to laugh at me,” Jolly said.
“Thoughts determine emotions and actions,” Victor said.
“What?” Jolly asked, looking at him as if he went crazy.
Victor stood up without saying a word and went to his car, picked up a gift bag from his trunk, and went back to the table. He quickly pulled a revolver from his gift bag and pointed it at Jolly’s face, who instinctively moved away from the table, raising his hands: “Hey! Get it away from me! What the fuck?”
“Thoughts determine actions. This powerful idea goes thousands of years back to Marcus Aurelius who said that we were not disturbed by the things that were happening, but by our judgment about them. Feelings depend on thoughts. If I think you pointed a gun at my face, I’m afraid. If I realize that the gun is a water gun, I no longer feel scared. Thoughts determine feelings. And you’ve, my friend just shitted yourself over a plastic gun I bought as a gift for my nephew’s birthday.”
Jolly laughed, then backed away, looking behind Victor, who had not missed that sudden change.
Turning his head, he saw the person who had interrupted their conversation.
“Oh, Mr. Inspector. Welcome.”
“Hello, Mr. Victor. Didn’t we agree last time that you should remove the patio? You do not have all the necessary permits and by holding this balcony bar lounge open you’re breaking the law and I’m forced to write you another fine this very moment.”
Jolly stared at the man in a dark business suit, who held the briefcase tightly in his hand as if it was full of state secrets. The very appearance of that kind of person stirred up anger in him.
“So, if I remove the balcony, where are you going to sit down to write my sentence, wretched inspector?” Victor said, laughing all the time. “This way, you can sit nicely on the balcony, have a coffee, here, now Ana will make you one, she already knows what you are having, and then you will nicely write the report for your master and that fine for me. Come on, sit down in the corner of the balcony, and don’t bother me while I’m talking to a friend.”
“Mr. Victor, I hate to come here and issue these fines, but under Article 3, Paragraph 2…”
“Hey, just go down to the corner, sit down and stop being such a drag. Write whatever you want!” Viktor shouted, turning to his friend, and then removed a bottle of whiskey from the ice kibble, pouring one more round for both of them.
Jolly looked at him inquiringly, looking at the businessman as he sat at a remote table.
“Well, the President’s son wants this place. I got stuck with these inspectors, they send me one inspection after another,” Victor replied, catching his inquiring look. “They abducted everyone’s real estate around me, but they can’t do anything to me. I have a firm contract with the owner of this house who’s in America. They want to chase me out and build a skyscraper, like everywhere else. Buildings are being built all around, growing like mushrooms, we have little to no place to park our cars anymore.”
Jolly played with a glass, spinning it in place. “You see, that’s why I told you all this. You should not be with these crooks here, man. You’ve always been a worldly man, intelligent.” Jolly gulped and then continued. “Remember when you came to see me and pick up those Bogner goods, when I wanted to get that oil magnate’s daughter laid, so we went to the winery near Trento of her old man, a Mason?”
Victor laughed. “Not a Mason, but a Rotarian.”
“All right, the same shit. While I was sweating being nervous, looking at those fancy 5 sets of dishes in front of us on the table, you were relaxed, discussing worldly affairs with her family. You see, you’ve always stood out.” Jolly poured whiskey into their glasses and continued. “Well… so, it would be a good idea for you to get out of here… and to work with me. I need a guy with style without a criminal record so he can easily move from job to job, who will help me with planning and reconnaissance, who is not greedy and most importantly… whom I can trust, and you have all those qualities.”
“Not being greedy yet doing robbery?” Victor said wryly.
“Greedy in a sense that you don’t do anything on your own, like that guy Milan did in London. If he hadn’t taken any jewelry out of the bag and had given me the whole loot as directed, he would’ve never been found with any evidence and caught. Look, this is a serious combination, all the jobs are pre-arranged… once we get the exact target and the goal of the robbery, it’s only our task to execute it. The booty is left in a pre-arranged place and there is no risk.” Jolly paused, gulping whiskey. “I mean, fuck, there’s always a risk, but working it this way, it’s minimized. Recently, I lost one of my best guys just because he wanted to get independent.”
“He and two of his associates robbed Doux, a jewelry store in Courchevel, a French ski resort, and as far as the plan is concerned, one really can’t remark. They were dressed in ski jackets with wool hats and sunglasses on their heads, just like real tourists. They rushed into the store through the back door at ten in the morning as two shopkeepers exhibited collections of watches and gems on shelves. They threw both on the floor, handcuffed them, and put sticky tape over their mouths. Everything went perfectly well, they disappeared before the robbery was revealed, but the problem arose the next day. In the neighboring Alpine town of Albertville, he raised suspicion with a transit officer because he was buying a train ticket with a five hundred euro note. HEEEY, 500!? Surveillance cameras also revealed his bag left on a platform, and when checked it was full of stolen jewels, watches, two tear gas cans, and a Serbian passport in the name of Milan Kilibarda, a passport we had processed for him a year ago. As you can see, looting is the easier part of the job, but what about the booty transfer afterward? I planned him for this job in London, he’s very skilled with weapons. It certainly wouldn’t happen to him to get detained by a guard. But fuck, even the most competent may fall.”
Victor shook his head. “I don’t know,” he said and looked at him thoughtfully. “I’ve always been just a fence moving goods. I’ve never participated in boosters. My job is just to sell them later.”
“What did you do on the battlefield in the military and later for the UN?” Jolly asked him, frowning.
“Computing and logistics planning in the military. Then a translator for the UN, but I also did logistics and planning. Every six months there was a rotation shift of these foreign officers and then the newcomers come to me, and I would organize them.”
“There, you see,” Jolly laughed. “You would work on logistics and planning in our business too, the same work, only for a different company… with a better salary though.”
Victor laughed along with Jolly, especially about the possibility of a better salary.
“After this last job in Tokyo, I was told that no one would be above me anymore. From now on I have complete freedom in organizing and executing, they will just give me a target,” Jolly said proudly.
“And what was that job in Tokyo?” Victor asked after the laughter had subsided. “Who did you do this job with?”
“I didn’t do it at all.”
“Because they also chose a raspberry grower from Arilje. Listen to this, and he wanted to take a mistress. Isn’t it weird that the largest jewel robbery in the history of Japan involves a raspberry grower from a small Serbian city of Arilje? The argument that anonymous people without a criminal record will easily cross borders does not surpass my background check or lack of experience. When I met them, they made a bad impression and I listened to my instinct and gave it up. Sometimes it’s better to give up a job than take a risk, particularly if you feel it’s not worth it. Besides, I’ve never worked in Asia. I prefer to have an option of escaping by car, bus, or train, which is why I work in Europe, I feel safer. That doesn’t mean I never will, but it was out of the question this time.”
“But they did a good job as far as I can remember. All the media was chattering about the robbery of that famous necklace,” Victor said.
“Nobody disputes that the robbery was done without a fault. They arrived in Japan in late February 2004, two weeks before the robbery. Three of them, the two love birds, and my replacement, traveled with valid Czech and Croatian passports. The organizer had flown in a day earlier. She provided hotel rooms and cell phones for each member of the group. On February 24, the raspberry grower made his first visit to a Maki jeweler, whom he would rob ten days later. He asked the seller to take him to the second floor and show him the famous Comtesse de Vendome necklace, which was heavily secured, in a glass case with a state-of-the-art alarm system. Then, a few days later, the raspberry guy comes again, but this time with the mistress and besides sightseeing, they bought a necklace and a silver spoon. Eventually, the time for action came, and on March 5, masked by wigs and dark glasses, the two entered the store and one of them asked the seller to buy some gold items, knowing that the seller will have to go to the storage room for the required goods. The raspberry guy seizes the moment and asks the other salesman to take him to the second floor and show him his necklace. As the raspberry guy and the seller climbed the stairs, the other one stayed downstairs near the exit, looking out on the remaining two vendors. When the raspberry guy came upstairs, he pulled out a sheet of paper and leaned over the cabinet, writing something down. Of course, this aroused suspicion in the salesman and when he leaned down to see what he was writing, the raspberry guy struck him with his fist and sprayed him with tear gas. He started hitting the seller in the head and forced him to a nearby toilet, the last thing the salesman heard was breaking of glass. When he woke up, it was already late. The raspberry guy and the other dude were already gone with a $ 33 million necklace.”
“But where did they screw up in the end?” Victor asked.
“When I talked to the investor and the organizer, what I said to them now I am saying to you, which is that I never stir emotions in this business. I do not take any girls or mistresses while preparing or doing work. I only eat fast food, no food leftovers behind. I don’t drink anything from glass cups. I try not to leave any traces behind me, unlike the raspberry guy and his mistress, who shagged like rabbits in a hotel for ten days and left the number of DNA tracks behind,” Jolly pulled a cigarette out of the pack and leaned closer to Victor while lighting it. “But it doesn’t matter now. From now on, it’s only me who manages future operations. They have withdrawn and will no longer participate directly, except to provide information about the target. Everything else is my concern.”
“They… who are they?” Victor asked in a quieter voice.
“They? These are the organizers and investors. They require that the preparation, logistics, manner, and speed of the execution of the robbery be carried out at a professional level, with military discipline and precision, and that the perpetrators had not previously come into conflict with the law. We will have a budget of three hundred thousand dollars per job, plus ten percent of the estimated value of the loot, which we get upon completion of the work, of course. We share the aforementioned three hundred thousand with assistants, but only you and I share the ten percent of the value of the booty afterward,” Jolly said, leaning closer. “I need your analytics and elegance because this concept of daily reconnaissance of elite snobby jewelry stores makes me nervous, and you… well, you need to get away from here. I’m not calling you coincidentally, I’ve been thinking about this for some time and I need help – you know I’m used to working at night, I observe the targets during the day and come and do the work in the evening, and I can’t do this with these jobs – for example, the next target is some business fair of diamond dealers in Paris, and I honestly have no idea how to do this job in a broad daylight in a business hall with a thousand people.” Jolly moved away and shook off the ashes of a nearly burned cigarette. “Think about it, you don’t have to answer me right away.”
Jolly took the glass and quaffed all the whiskey and pulled away from the table. “I have to go to the toilet.”
Getting up from his chair, he stepped over the balcony and stopped next to the corner table, just above the inspector. He reached over the Inspector’s shoulder and extinguished the cigarette embers on the fine form he was filling out, startling him with his gesture. He looked up haggardly and shuddered from a smile beneath Jolly’s terrifying eyes.
“Pardon me, inspector, do go on, please”. Keeping a sinister smile on his face, Jolly left the cigarette butt on the paper and walked calmly toward the toilet.
That evening at the meeting in Antwerp, in 2006, Victor sat at the table across his visibly nervous friend. The firm, yet not disagreeable assertiveness and bright eyes, the traits that adorned Jolly, his childhood friend, and common-work partner, disappeared as if they had never existed. Nervously flipping through a magazine, which at no point caught his attention, he perturbed Victor too, who was watching him quietly. Bloodshot eyes, haggard look, and sweat drops on his forehead displayed some new man Victor has never known.
“It can’t be like this anymore,” Jolly said, bringing Victor back to reality from his thoughts.
“What can’t be?”
“I say it doesn’t work like this anymore. As soon as he comes today, I’ll tell him everything,” Jolly said, wiping the sweat from his forehead.
“Okay, but be a little clearer. What exactly can’t go on like this anymore?” Victor asked, suddenly feeling as taut as a bowstring.
Jolly was just about to say something when suddenly Green rushed in like a whirlwind without knocking. Impeccably dressed in elegant clothes, Green reminded Victor of a middle-aged Hollywood star, not of a cold-blooded criminal he was at his core. Green was black-haired, tough, rugged, yet masculine, with his strong shoulders and strong facial features and cocked jaws, and with his confident appearance and glowing eyes, he radiated supremacy and fear.
Saying short hello to everyone, Green laid down his black leather bag on the table and, as usual, pulled out bundles of money notes. Victor did not expect anything more knowing Green, who did not prefer formal talks. He would usually pay them out what was due to them for the job that they had done and explain the next mission if it had been specified meanwhile.
On the table, Green splits the money into four equal parts and places one plastic bag at the end of each stack of notes.
“As we agreed, the booty of 8 million Euros, 10% of that in four parts, amounts to 200 thousand Euros each,” said Green, pleased with how nicely he put the notes on the table.
Jolly slowly approached and began weighing the bundles.
“It’s not enough,” Jolly said, staring seriously at Green.
“Are you pointing to little money or a small bag? Be a little bit more specific.”
“I’m pointing to little money. 10% for all of us is not enough,” Jolly said, not taking his eyes off him for a moment.
Green smiled as if he had expected a question like this. He sighed slightly and spoke in a tone as if he were addressing a small child who does not understand simple math.
“First, it’s not 10 percent but 15 percent, but as you already know, that 5 percent difference goes to you in advance as prep work payment and is paid off to you before the job as a down payment.”
“It’s not enough!” Jolly exclaimed.
“As you know,” Green continued in the same patronizing tone, “before each robbery, the amount paid to you with all costs is agreed upon, and I bear those payments. All possible additional costs, such as hiring a lawyer for those arrested, if any, are borne by me too. The deal has always been that you get the predetermined amount, and everything has worked like that so far, without any hassle. So, what’s changed all of a sudden now?” Green angrily finished the question.
“What has changed is that it’s getting more and more difficult to get the jobs done, preparations have never been more rigorous than they are now. The loot we bring to you is getting bigger every time! And our earnings remain the same, 10 percent!” Jolly shouted boldly.
Totally confused, Victor watched his friend, not recognizing him at all. After decades of acquaintance with Jolly, he could not understand where so much accumulated anger had come from in this otherwise always well-controlled man. He genuinely wanted to engage in conversation and calm the passions, but Green’s quick reaction to the outburst of Jolly’s anger denied him the opportunity to do so.
“So, 10 percent of so many millions are not enough for you, right? Then, why are you complaining about the preparations now, all of a sudden? You know very well that each Victor’s preparation delivers almost a flawless plan after which you always bring the booty and most importantly, the chances for you to get caught are minimal! And now all of a sudden, these preparations are hard for you!”
“Of course, I’m complaining about the preparations! Because they get increasingly difficult! Last time we had to ride a boat like sailors for fifteen days! Well, that’s not easy, Green!”
Victor did his best to stifle laughter at the memory of the last action in San Tropez. In his memory of the glorious moments, he did not miss the cold gaze of Green towards Jolly, although he noticed signs of sympathy mixed with the frustration of the moment.
“What’s sure not easy is NOT to prepare and end up in prison, right?” Green said calmly. “The prison lacks the luxury, the partying, and the leisurely life we are all used to. Is it better to endure the preparations and enjoy the fruits of successful work or serve time in jails of Europe, huh?”
“If running and hiding, experiencing fear in illegal border crossings, living like a scared animal pushed to a corner are what you mean by ‘enjoying the fruit of work’, then you’re bloody wrong, Green,” Jolly coldly replied to him.
“And why are you confessing to me now? Can’t you put up with the pressure anymore? Would you like to retire?” Green asked in a surprised voice raising an eyebrow.
“I just want to let you know that 10 percent is too little and that it doesn’t work that way anymore,” Jolly said, triumphantly lifting his head with a sarcastic sneer, visibly convinced that any possible further discussion was over.
Green sighed and moved over from the table. He slowly moved closer to the sitting room and looked closely at everyone around him, Jacqueline sitting in the armchair without saying a single word, Victor, pointing a silent gaze into his eyes, shaking his head as if to signal that he had nothing to do with this outburst, and then Jolly, obviously the leader of the rebellion. Green scratched his chin clenching unconsciously his teeth.
“Are you all aware of the fact that I’ve never organized robberies with the same crew twice in a row? Or in continuity as with you? Hmm?” Green asked, without getting a response. “Because all my life I have worked with semi-amateurs and thugs, scummy nitwits. You’re the first ones to break that tradition… and I didn’t regret it, not for a moment. I have 100% achievement with you guys. But…” Green paused for effect, “…no one is irreplaceable. The business goes on, with or without you. This has been or more precisely, was a successful collaboration because there was a system, and everything was fixed up to the last detail. The earnings are as they are since other parts of the operation carry their costs that must be covered. So, as for the earnings and the loot percentage, no room for negotiation. Everything is already pre-arranged with the end customers. As they say,” Green looked Jolly directly in the eye, “…take it or leave it.”
The pregnant silence was only disturbed by rhythmic clock beats on the wall.
“Well, if so…,” Jolly broke the silence, picking up the bundles of notes, “…then I’m leaving it.”
Jolly smiled, putting the last money bundle in the inner pocket of his leather jacket.
“Well, if you say so,” Green nodded and shrugged.
Jolly walked over to Jacqueline and gently took her hand and kissed it with a smile. “Bye, princess!”
Before exiting through the main door, Jolly turned and exchanged glances with Victor, who smiled at him. Jolly winked at him before departing, leaving them in silence.
Victor stared at Green, noticing the muscles in his face twitching for a moment. Never having seen his departed friend so angry and determined, Victor decided to talk to him as soon as an opportunity arises. He could concur with a lot of what was said, but not with the fact that he had not told him anything in advance, leaving him this confused. The initial confusion slowly began to fade in the face of impending fury. After everything they’ve been through together, he could not understand that his best friend and business partner did not trust him enough to tell him what was upsetting him, to confide his black thoughts in him.
“The next action is in Dubai, early spring next year. Should I count on you or look for a new crew?” Green’s voice, as if startling him from a dream, scattered his thoughts disrupting his internal argument. At the very mention of a new action, he felt adrenaline boil in his veins, hardly comparable to anything he has known. There is no such drug, adventure, or extreme sport that could compare to preparing a new heist action and then executing it.
His look flew toward the pretty lady colleague in the armchair, who nodded slightly her head, smiling enigmatically. Her smile seemed overwhelming to him at that moment, as was the desire for action. He looked at Green and saw a smile on his face as well.