Chapter 137 – More Paintings (2)
The process of the painting being stolen was as interesting as a movie.
To take it out from Hwajin’s secret vault, they tempered with the temperature and humidity controlling system. Then, they sent fake mechanics and prepared to disable the security system. That was only the first step.
Next, they broke in early in the morning when the guard was the weakest and succeeded on stealing about a dozen paintings without anyone noticing.
Additionally, an important member of the staff in Hwajin was bribed by that criminal organization and helped them. That plan was a perfect piece of art.
However, that wasn’t the only reason Haejin was shocked. He was so shocked because Titian’s painting was included in those paintings.
He couldn’t be sure if it was real. But if it was, it would be amazing.
Tiziano Vecelli (known as Titian in English) led the prime days of the Italian Renaissance. He was an artist as great as Michelangelo and Raphael.
He was called the painter of rulers as he painted portraits of many rulers like Pope Paul III, Charles V, and Francis I.
Moreover, Hwajin had his painting… that painting had a great historical value, of course, but it was also worth at least 350 billion won.
How long did Hwajin have that? As far as Haejin knew, the last time Titian’s paintings were sold on auction was 1971
Whether Hwajin had won it on auction or had gotten it as a bonus of trading value, it could bring about tremendous consequences.
“It’s, it’s nothing… anyway, this is the only painting you stole, right?”
“Yes, right. I took out only this one. I couldn’t bring more… anyway, is this real?”
“Yes, it is real. This is that 8-billion-won painting.”
Sanghun applauded in joy. Of course, the other agents didn’t even look at him and just did what they were doing, so he didn’t get many reactions, but he didn’t seem to care.
“Thank you. We will take it from here.”
“What are you going to do? You know the NIS might suffer for this, right?”
The NIS couldn’t expose the paintings: it would mean they had been keeping an eye on civilians.
“Of course, we won’t do it ourselves. Our director is not going to retire so soon.”
“Even if the water is dirty, there will be at least one lotus that blooms. I am going to pick a strong man who will never let go, no matter who the target is.”
“There is such a prosecutor?”
Sanghun’s eyes sparkled.
“Just one. I know a guy, I am going to toss this to him.”
“He can be trusted, right?”
To Haejin’s surprise, Sanghun shook his head.
“There is no such thing as a trustworthy man in this world. You should also never trust someone with huge power. Life is always about gambling. All you can do is to objectively judge which side has a higher probability. I betted on you being a good man and I’m also going to bet that the prosecutor is also a good man. There is nothing I can be sure of.”
He was right. If he hadn’t been right, Hassena wouldn’t have been killed like that by her best friend, Saliyah.
“That’s the right answer, I shouldn’t have asked that.”
“It is human nature to want to be sure. You were right to ask. Of course, I am not going to sit down and pray for the prosecutor to do well, but even if I make preparations on my own, there is a huge gap of power between me and the prosecutors.”
“I guess you are right.”
“But let’s have faith. His sense of justice is strong…”
“Hmm… then please tell him this.”
“I don’t know what it is, but I am the best expert at carrying messages.”
Sanghun took out his notebook and got ready to write it down. Haejin couldn’t help but smile.
“Haha… those paintings are very expensive.”
“That, I know.”
“I think one of them is worth more than 30 billion.”
“What? 30 billion?”
This mess had occurred because of a painting that was worth 8 billion, but now Haejin was talking about a painting that was worth more than 30 billion. Sanghun’s eyes widened.
“You said about a dozen paintings had been stolen, so all of them put together is more than 100 billion won.”
Sanghun shook his head.
“Then, they didn’t pay at least 50 billion won of inheritance tax.”
“If that prosecutor uses that as a reason to go through Hwajin’s vault…”
Sanghun’s eyes glared as he looked at Haejin.
“He might be able to expose secret funds worth trillions.”
“Would he really do this, even if he is bold? And even if tries to, what if his superiors just send him away to the regional prosecutor’s office?”
“He cannot finish this alone once he starts to go after Hwajin with this painting. You know this has gone to the independent counsel once… so if the public gets to find out about this, another independent counsel will be formed. All I want for the prosecutor is to drag this until that counsel is created.”
Haejin could see what Sanghun was thinking. However, it also meant there was almost no prosecutor who could take a case to strangle Hwajin’s neck. It made him sigh.
“Well, okay. Then I should go now, right?”
“But I cannot let you just go, you just came all the way here. Why don’t we have lunch together? There’s good baeksuk (Korean chicken stew) place nearby…”
“No, I shouldn’t bother you more. I will just go.”
Haejin didn’t want to be so close to Sanghun as he was an agent of the NIS. So, he tried to leave, but Sanghun scratched his head and said, “Actually, while you were coming here, I got an order to tell you something. So please, let’s eat together.”
Haejin couldn’t refuse more and nodded.
Sanghun left his men and went with Haejin. He drove with ease as if he knew the way.
“This restaurant’s baeksuk is really great. It was on TV programs multiple times. After you eat it, you will think you should come again with your girlfriend.”
“I hope so.”
Actually, Haejin didn’t care about that kind of useless talk. He just wondered what the higher officials of the NIS wanted him to know.
However, when he tasted that baeksuk after 30 minutes of waiting, he could see why Sanghun had complimented it so much.
“Well, it’s good, right?
“Oh, yes. Well…”
Actually, it was way too good.
“Haha… then please, eat.”
They ate without talking for a while, and when they were about to eat the rice stuffing, Sanghun started to talk.
“I am very curious about you, Mr. Haejin.”
“What do you mean?”
“I haven’t worked on the smuggling of the artifacts for long, but I think I know more than enough by now. And, as far as I know, you started to rise as a star only a while ago.”
“Well… in time, it hasn’t been that long.”
“And you became the greatest appraiser in this country. That’s very special, isn’t it?”
Haejin couldn’t agree as it was a compliment about himself, but Sanghun continued, a little grimly.
“But what is even more magnificent is that you are becoming famous worldwide so quickly. I think that is amazing.”
It was probably because of Eric Holton and Prince Sahmadi.
“But what are you trying to tell me?”
Then, Sanghun said something he really hadn’t expected.
“Italy has contacted the Korean Diplomatic Service.”
Haejin thought about his past, wondering if he had caused any trouble, but he hadn’t been to Italy or met any Italian ever since he jumped into the antique market.
“Yes, but they didn’t send an official document about it.”
“Does that mean they cannot let others find out about it? What on earth is this about…”
“We don’t know much, either. The Diplomatic Service passed it to us after hearing their story… the Italian Cultural Heritage Administration has asked for you specifically. In secret, of course. This is all I know.”
“Hmm… they didn’t say anything about what was it about? Like it was about a painting or a sculpture…”
Sanghun put a huge spoonful of rice stuffing into his mouth and shook his head.
“Uh, no. That is all I know.”
“Then, how am I supposed to help? Am I supposed to help in Korea? Or should I go to Italy?”
“Please, give me a minute.”
Sanghun called someone.
“Hey, it’s me. Mr. Haejin asked for more information. I know, I know, but… hey, think about it. He has to know what it is about and what he has to do to help with it or not. Is he supposed to look at some document and help here? Or does he have to go to Italy? We must give him the minimum info. Yeah, okay. Call me immediately.”
When Sanghun hung up, Haejin asked, “Who was it?”
“Oh, a friend of mine in the Diplomatic Service. He will soon call back.”
As he said, he got a call in less than 10 minutes. Sanghun had a simple conversation with him and looked at the text he got.
“A member of the staff from the Italian Cultural Heritage Administration will arrive in three days. He will explain it to you, but that’s all they said. What are they? That’s no attitude to ask for help!”
Sanghun found that ridiculous.
“They are taking great care, so it must be a very important artifact.”
Helping wasn’t going to be hard. However, Italy had picked Haejin. How did they find out about him? That’s all he wondered.
Three days later, the man from the Italian Cultural Administration Italy came to Korea. Of course, him coming was a great secret that only agents of the NIS knew.
He checked into a hotel in the middle of Seoul and immediately came to Haejin’s museum.
“Nice to meet you, I am Giorgio Sayor.”
He was in his mid-50s. He wasn’t that tall, but he was fat: he had an enormous belly. He also seemed nice.
He put a huge 007 case on the table and said, “I’ve heard so much about you.”
He spoke in fluent English, so communicating with him wasn’t a problem.
“About me? From who?”
“Mat Vellin, he mostly works in the middle east. He and I are very close.”
“He told me about a Korean when he heard about the kind of trouble I was in. It turned out to be you.”
“And what is that trouble?”
He opened the case and showed him a small piece.
“Could you take a look at this?”