“It was Ryan’s team in New York that spotted a new player in the market. Makso has chosen not to work at the top end, in the millions. There is heavy scrutiny of expensive items.
“Nevertheless, the works he has forged have changed hands for tens of thousands of dollars. They’re making him very rich.
“It started when Ryan’s team had a call from a New York dealer,” he went on. “His client had bought two Assyrian reliefs of soldiers and horses purportedly from 600 BC. The dealer bought them in good faith from a highly reputable auction house.
“The provenance was all in place, auction catalogues from the 1920s, letters regarding purchases, certificates of authentication.”
Cesare was beginning to understand the extent of Makso’s crimes as Greg continued.
“You see, Makso doesn’t just have the item forged, his forger creates a whole credible story around each one. The client was so proud of his purchase, he wanted a friend at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, who has studied that period in history, to see them. Imagine the dealer’s horror when this colleague noticed, in the cuneiform inscription, a spelling mistake!”
Ryan took over the story.
“When the dealer informed my team, they put out feelers to the Arts and Antiquities Unit of Scotland Yard. It turned out there were suspicions about a few recent sales, all pointing towards Makso Yurcich, but nothing that could be proven.
“That’s where Greg came in, as some had turned up in London. When Makso advertised for a handyman, it was an ideal ploy for him to go under cover.”
“If it weren’t for that mistake, I guess Makso would have gone on with his shady business for years,” Cesare said.
“Absolutely,” Greg replied. “Once discovered, this sort of crime can rock the art market to its core. It’s been necessary for us to gather as much information as possible to compile a watertight case.
“I now have copies of documents, mobile phone records, dates of shipments and sales, and intelligence on his next shipment.
“You and Mel witnessed half of it being loaded last night. That’s why I had to signal you to keep away. It hasn’t reached its destination yet, which we’ve discovered is Paris. It will reach the French coast today, when our colleagues will swoop on it.”
Cesare held on to his seat as the car negotiated twists and turns on the route heading towards the sea.
“You said there were corrupt police here who have turned a blind eye,” he said.
Ryan was taking the back roads, which would approach the cove from the opposite direction to the Villa Lavanda.
“That’s right. I have been able to identify materials coming in to the cove which have been sent to the trulli houses. One of the houses contains Makso’s master forger – a self-taught artist who was running his own highly specialised and small operation.
“Makso discovered what he was up to and blackmailed him into moving his wife and extended family into the trulli houses above the cove. Those poor people know nothing about the illegality of the operation.”
They were close to the cove now. Ryan had turned off the engine and the car was coasting silently at a snail’s pace down the unmade dirt track.
The trulli houses slumbered in the distance, shimmering under the heat of the day.
“Makso’s downfall is that he has become greedy. The slow trickle of items he started with is turning into a torrent. If he had continued to issue the forged items bit by bit we might not have traced them back to him.
“But he is like most criminals. He’s drunk with his power over people and has begun to think he is invincible.”
“But . . .” Cesare’s hands were balled into fists “. . . a man like that will be dangerous when cornered. If he has done anything to hurt Mel . . .”
“Stay cool,” Greg replied and clapped a warning hand on Cesare’s arm. “I’ve had to stay patient for months. We mustn’t blow the operation now.”
Suddenly, Cesare tensed, his alert eyes fixed on a point ahead.
“Stop the car. Is that not the boy Mihovil crouching in the grass above the trulli houses? What does he think he’s doing?”
* * * *