Posted by : Robert Child Friday

* The third released except from my forthcoming fiction novel, The Russian van Gogh.


MI6 Agent, Justin Watson, had seen the text come in on his Blackberry and was hurrying along the rounded corridor to an appointment with Jeremy Lloyd head of the Special Investigations Unit at SIS.
Justin, a top international operative, had been with the service just over five years and had heard the rumors about “special investigations”  - ultra secret, politically sensitive missions always covert in nature that were never discussed.
Arriving at the wing of the department he passes through additional security measures; retinal and voice scans before entering the inner sanctum.
Jeremy Lloyd, Justin knew, was a legend at SIS and had been instrumental in bringing on board former KGB agent, Alexander Litvinenko as a consultant for MI5 and MI6. The former Russian agent had provided invaluable intel about the inner workings of the KGB just before his mysterious poisoning death in 2006 from radioactive plutonium-210.
If Jeremy Lloyd was heading a new investigation Russia must be involved somehow, Justin thought.
“Agent Watson, thank you for coming on short notice,” Jeremy says with a practiced smile and cold handshake as he leads Justin into his expansive office.
Scanning the room, Watson is impressed with the art that hangs from the Sector head’s walls – mainly late 19th Century Post Impressionist works.
Jeremy noticing, “Ah mainly just giclees – high resolution prints on canvas, Agent Watson. If they were the real thing I wouldn’t be here.”
Justin smiles.
“Do you know anything about van Gogh, Watson?”
“Only that he was considered one of the great masters of impressionist art.”
“Post Impressionist,” Lloyd corrects, “but no matter his paintings are worth multiple millions of pounds. And the Red Army certainly knew that when they raped Berlin of its cultural artifacts.”
Justin gives the inspector a quizzical look. How did the Red Army suddenly enter into all this?
“You see in the last hours of closing the noose around Berlin the Red Army had advance scouts everywhere as the eyes and ears of the Trophy Brigade. These scouts secretly located precious works of art, safely secured them then set fire to the buildings that formerly housed them.”
Justin nods to continue.
“And this is exactly what happened in Magdeburg, Germany in May, 1945, 150km west of Berlin. There a museum housing priceless works of art was set ablaze after it was emptied of its most valuable pieces during, as luck would have it, an allied bombing raid. Perfect cover for an art heist wouldn’t you say?
“Perfect”, Justin concurs.
“One of those priceless museum pieces just surfaced in Russia.”
“One guess, a van Gogh?” Justin asks smugly.
“Yes but not just any van Gogh. It is a self-portrait of the artist himself in a landscape. It is called Painter on the Road to Tarascon and it is now in the hands of a rogue branch of the Russian mafia.”
“Rogue branch?”
“Yes, Watson.” Lloyd picks up and opens a burgundy folder on his desk and hands it to the young agent, “led by this man, Sergey Karpov, formerly part of the Lubyanka Criminal Group.”
“Putin’s organization?
“The same,” Jeremy confirms then continues. “Karpov was Putin’s right hand man supervising the lucrative drug trade out of Afghanistan.”
Justin flips through the dossier as Lloyd continues.
“We believe the two had a falling out why else would he turn and steal what’s considered priceless State property.”
“How do you think the Putin government will respond?”
“Respond? Like they always do, with an iron fist,” Lloyd replies unemotionally.
“Karpov probably had a buyer already lined up on the black market,” Justin theorizes.
Under normal circumstances I would agree with you, Watson but instincts tell me otherwise. No, something quite bigger is a foot here.”
“Go on.”
“Simple human nature - you don’t simply steal a lost van Gogh that the world hasn’t seen for over sixty years without announcing to the planet that you’ve got it.”
“So you believe Karpov still has it?”
“I would bet my life on it,” Lloyd responds confidently.
“And so what are you proposing?”
“British Intelligence is now working with the Dutch government and Interpol to organize a joint task force. Justice Secretary Clarke has placed this on high priority status.”
Justin nods, impressed.
“The Director has empowered me to put together a team to secure the art. It is a highly covert operation traveling inside Russia. As our leading European operative you will head the team. You’ll link up with our man in Moscow after you connect with the van Gogh museum.
 “Certainly, Sir.”
 “And, oh yes, the Dutch have offered a substantial reward for the painting’s return.”
“I knew there had to be something more, how much?” Justin asks.
“Ten million euros for the van Gogh alone.”
“That’s substantial.”
“Watson this operation is highly delicate and the political ramifications enormous. If the Russian authorities discover you, protocol J will trigger. You will have no choice.”
Lloyd allows this to sink in a moment then continues, “you leave for Amsterdam tonight.”  

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